Pleasant Pops turns to Kickstarter for restaurant capital

Tallying up the costs of a contractor, permitting and equipment convinced Roger Horowitz and Brian Sykora that they needed more money to open their first eatery in Adams Morgan. The founders of Pleasant Pops, a District popsicle stand-turned-food truck, were using their own savings and a business loan to cover expenses.

But with the build out of the ground-floor space topping $100,000 and unforeseen expenses mounting, having a cash reserve became a must. Problem was the guys were financially tapped out.

Two weeks ago, the duo started a campaign on crowd-sourcing Web site Kickstarter to raise $20,000 by April 26. They received nearly $22,000 from 339 backers within the first nine days.

“Kickstarter is one of the best-known funding sites, and we just wanted an extra cushion in case we can’t open up on time in July,” said Horowitz, 27, during a conference on restaurant start-ups, hosted last week by the business group Think Local First D.C.

Kickstarter, launched in 2009, is a source for funding for arts, food and music ventures. About 20,000 projects — from comic books to puppet musicals — have received more than $175 million through the site.


A watermelon and cucumber popsicle from Pleasant Pops. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

Creative types post descriptions of their projects, which must fall into one of 13 categories. Listings must have a target dollar amount and time limit of up to 60 days. If a project meets its full goal, Kickstarter collects a 5 percent fee.

To entice donors, Horowitz and Sykora, 26, offered everyone who pledged $25 or more an invitation to the grand opening party at the new store, located at 1781 Florida Ave. NW. Pleasant Pops Farmhouse Market & Cafe, as the store will be called, is to feature a selection of local produce, coffee, sandwiches and an array of ice pops.

The frozen treats are inspired by paletas, a type of Mexican ice pop made from fresh fruit. Horowitz and Sykora, who met at the University of North Carolina, had loved the dessert as kids. They decided in late 2008 to take a stab at starting an artisan popsicle stand.

The pair experimented with dozens of flavors over the course of the next year until they discovered a few tasty combos — such as strawberry-ginger-lemonade and watermelon-cucumber. The men purchased the fruit from local farmers markets.

“We bought bulk from the local farmers, bought all of the apples that were bruised to get it a little cheaper,” Horowitz said.

He and Sykora originally set out to open a brick-and-mortar popsicle parlor, but had trouble obtaining the necessary capital. “We had no collateral, no money and simply couldn’t get a bank loan,” Horowitz said.

The men scrapped together about $5,000 from friends and family to purchase a used ice cream cart. They began hawking their $2.50 pops at farmers market in 2010. As the business grew, the pair purchased a truck, outfitting it with a donated chest freezer.

Pleasant Pops has not hit profitability yet, but Horowitz said business has been steady and he looks forward to having year-round operations.

Danielle Douglas covers the banking industry for The Washington Post.
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