The multi-colored umbrellas above King of Pops pushcarts have become ubiquitous at outdoor festivals and some of the city’s favorite attractions. Typically, a clapboard scribbled with chalk heralds what’s chilling inside the cooler, varieties ranging from the classic Chocolate Sea Salt and Orange Cream to fruity concoctions like Blackberry Ginger Lime to seasonals like Pineapple Habanero or Sweet Tea ‘n Lemonade.
If you have a hankering for say, the Banana Pudding or Grapefruit Mint, best not delay. As the day goes on, the flavors are often crossed out one by one. Turns out, for about $4 a pop, you may be able to buy happiness after all.
Since launching in 2010, King of Pops (KOP) has expanded into seven cities in the Southeast and opened a poptails (popsicle cocktails) bar inside Ponce City Market. So, how did KOP become king? The evolving popularity of these popsicles has much more to do than with what’s in the cooler. “Our purpose is to make the world a better place by creating Unexpected Moments of Happiness,” reads the King of Pops website. This approach has led KOP to host one of the city’s largest, free outdoor yoga classes, to curate Pop Art shows and to launch Tree Elves, a Christmas tree delivery service during the “off-season.” For CEO Steven Carse, that purpose is simpler than it sounds. (There’s even an acronym: UMoH).
For the first couple years of the business, the smiling face behind a single cart was Carse’s. As the story goes, KOP started after Carse was laid off from a corporate job. Inspired by frozen treats he had tasted on a previous trip through Central America with his brothers, he used the opening in his schedule to pursue a pipe dream.
Within a few months, Steven’s brother Nick left his job as a lawyer to become the second employee. Today, there are quite a few more employees under the KOP umbrella—perhaps the brand’s most important ingredient.
“Our brand is really based around the people on the cart,” Carse said. “They’re empowered to make decisions on the fly to make people’s day, whether it’s giving someone a pop that is having a bad day or opening a car door, walking someone across the street, telling a joke or doing a magic trick. We’re looking for happy people that want to be outside.”
That isn’t to say that KOP doesn’t take every ingredient that goes into each pop as seriously. Carse and his team work hard to get fruit and dairy from the best local farms. If there is a fruit in season in the South, they likely have created a pop to feature it. From Georgia’s own Pearson peaches to local coffee roasters and bakeries, they keep their eyes peeled for new partnerships. Recently, the company purchased their own farm called King of Crops in nearby Winston.
“We feel it is very important to be an example of what you think is good,” Carse said. “We started the farm to grow some of our own produce and understood that was going to be a difficult challenge, but in addition to producing fruit and herbs for our pops, we also want to teach people about farming and good food."
KOP is even passionate about the pieces of ingredients that don’t get used. Organic scraps are composted locally through their own operation, called—you guessed it—King of Compost.
What’s next on the horizon? More poptails bars, more flavors and more moments of happiness.
“We’re always looking for new ideas, whether it’s a place to set up or if you’ve got an event going on or a flavor idea,” Carse said. “What’s really important to us is that our fans feel like we’re a part of their community and they’re a part of our community.”
You can submit these online, or you may have the chance to chat pop-possibilities with Carse for yourself. On the occasional sunny day, you may find him under the umbrella at the same, original street corner where KOP was first crowned.