By Anne-Marie Rook | Cascade.org
Business: Six Strawberries
Owners: Vanessa Resler and Will Lemke
Vanessa Resler and Will Lemke couldn’t have asked for a better summer to kick off their ice pop business. As the dry, sunny days lingered into October, Resler and Lemke pedaled their mobile popsicle carts from neighborhood to neighborhood, getting their product into the hands of hundreds of Seattleites.
Resler and Lemke business, Six Strawberries, is Seattle’s first artisan ice pops company. They specialize in dairy-free ice pops with a focus on local ingredients and innovative rotating flavors such as PB&J, Asian Pear, Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, Thai Iced Tea, and many more.
But what makes Six Strawberries truly unique is that they are Seattle’s first licensed bicycle-powered mobile food cart.
“We’re a young business with a new product and a new business model of being a mobile food truck sans truck,” Lemke said. “There really aren’t a lot of bike businesses, and it’s been really fun to get out there.”
Six Strawberries was dreamt up one day during a video conference between Resler, Lemke and her cousin Alex, who was sick in a hospital bed.
Popsicles being Resler’s favorite food, the trio brainstormed delicious ice pop flavors: super sour apple, cake on a popsicle, a pop that tasted like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
They decided that as soon as Alex was out of the hospital, they would start a business selling these uniquely-flavored ice pops. One week later however, Alex passed away at only 27 years old. As a tribute to Alex, Lemke and Resler decided to start the project that the three of them had dreamt up.
Six Strawberries grew from a brainstorming session to a grief-processing project to, ultimately, a young business.
“He really is the third founder of our business,” Resler said. “Many of our flavors were Alex’ creations.”
It took six months of experiments in a home kitchen, coming up with unique flavors, learning the chemistry behind varying freezing temperatures, improving the workflow, and tastings before the product was marketable.
“There was a lot of trial and error,” Lemke said. “There are no books on how to start a popsicle business.”
Thanks to catering connections, Lemke and Resler are allowed to use a commercial kitchen in the off-hours, which makes for a lot of productions shifts at odd, late-night hours.
And while the pops are in the freezer, Resler, a recovering CPA turned karaoke host, and Lemke, a filmmaker, return to their real jobs.
“This was only our first season so our first step was to get our product into the hands of people,” Lemke said. And the bicycle cart was the perfect means to do it.
The nice thing of having a bicycle is that it’s mobile, low-maintenance, and low-cost, Lemke said, adding that they were able to start the business without investors or going into debt.
A first of its kind, Six Strawberries had to apply for a mobile vendor permit, which allows them to move from street to street and sell, but it comes with a lot of exceptions. For example, they can’t sell their product in downtown Seattle, the U-District or Stadium district, nor are they allowed within a 50-feet-radius of a park.
“It’s a new thing for the city to deal with us bike vendors. And we’d be happy to help new bike businesses through the vendor application process,” Lemke said. “I think the zones will loosen up if there were a bunch of us. Portland is known for their food carts, we can be known for our food bicycles.”
To get their products in the hands of Seattleites, Lemke and Resler started selling at farmers markets and used social media such as Glimpse, Twitter, and Facebook to announce their whereabouts.
“We also received really good worth of mouth,” said Lemke.
While the street sales wind down in the winter, Lemke and Resler are gearing up for a busy event season, and have started experimenting with holiday-inspired ice pops for special orders, parties and corporate events.
In the future, Resler hopes to make Six Strawberries her fulltime gig and see their company grow to a fleet of bicycles and maybe even a storefront.
“As a tribute to Alex, I want to have a charitable element to our business and work with organizations that help kids with illnesses,” she said. “Also, I never want to go on a job interview again.”