On the Line: Erin Whitcomb of Front Porch Pops, Part Two
|Photo by Meranda Carter|
Front Porch Pops' Erin Whitcomb gets technical in part two of our weekly series. She discusses expansion, her efforts in giving back to the community, and what flavors we can look forward to. We even learn how walking her dog inspired the company's name. Want more? Did you start with part one? You did? There's always tomorrow. . . .
Hardest lesson you've learned:
Equipment failures happen, and they're stupid expensive, especially when you use specialty equipment imported from abroad.
What would your last meal on Earth be?
My mom's orange chicken.
Okay, I'm a big, big nerd for admitting this, but . . . Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She's totally badass, hilarious and resourceful.
Tell us about your food-service-industry background.
Cooking has always been my passion. I cooked my first Thanksgiving dinner when I was 15, but I decided to go to college instead of culinary school. After college, I was an event planner for a PBS station, and I dabbled in catering, but I was hesitant to make my hobby a career. I was afraid I wouldn't love it anymore if I cooked for a living, but when I got laid off, I had the latitude to give it a try, and so far, I love it!
How did Front Porch Pops get its name?
I was overwhelmed by this huge brainstorm of literally 80-plus names I was considering, and then one night I was walking my dog around Old Towne Orange and thought, "This is what I love about this place -- all the porches." Front porches remind me of all those simple pleasures that come along with being a kid: running through the sprinkler, riding my bike, or eating pops on the porch with my little brother. So I ditched the list, and Front Porch Pops was born.
We hear you also do fund-raising events?
I spent the first part of my career in the nonprofit realm, and I know how much work it is to put on a fund-raiser. I see school programs being cut all the time, things like art, sports and music that help kids stay out of mischief and become well-rounded people. There's only so much you can do with a bake sale, and parents are already super-busy as it is, so I want to make it easy.
We show up to an event (like a football game or an assembly), sell our pops, and give the school or group a percentage of the profit, as big a percentage as we can manage. As a small-business owner, I have to cover my costs, but I want this business to support the community.
What exactly is a "cold-storage refrigeration micro-computer temperature controller"? [Editor's Note: It broke down on her recently. Refer to Erin's answer to the first question for some backstory.]
You know how when you make your own popsicles at home, they have a gritty, icy texture? It's because your freezer doesn't get cold enough to prevent ice crystals from forming. We use a fancy Brazilian quick freeze that gets crazy cold, so our pops always have a smooth texture without loading 'em up with unnecessary sugar. That microcomputer thingy controls how cold the freezer gets.
What's the most popular flavor so far, and what flavors didn't make the cut?
Strawberry Lemonade is the all-time best-seller, but Whoa! Watermelon!, Creamy Vanilla Caramel and Monkey Gone to Heaven (dark chocolate with roasted bananas) are all new ones that are catching up quick.
Abomination flavors? Orange Buttermilk has never turned out the way I want it to, but that's really the only one I've abandoned entirely.
Any seasonal flavors we can look forward to?
Pumpkin Spice, Caramel Apple, Clove Peach and many more. . . . I'm always working on new flavors.
Oh, man, that totally depends. Are you in the mood for fruity or creamy? Tart or sweet? If you like classic flavors, I'd start with Strawberry Lemonade, but if you're feeling more adventurous, I'd try Grilled Pineapple.
What would you be doing if you weren't in this business?
I'd be a struggling screenwriter working a 9-to-5 marketing job to get by.
What advice do you have for those who might be thinking about a career in food?
Don't be a copycat. Do what you do better than anyone else, while always putting your customers first. There's a lot of competition out there, but there's also a lot of mediocrity. If you settle for nothing but the best, customers will recognize that, and it'll bring them back over and over. I never thought in a million years I'd have "regulars" after being in business just a couple of months, but I do, and I think it's because people appreciate quality.
What do you see yourself doing in five years? Ten years?
I see myself building an empire out of popisicle sticks! We'll be expanding with more carts in more cities and offering our pops in select retail locations.
Click here for the Front Porch Pops website.
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