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Pleasant Pops takes off its training wheels for new store
In Adams Morgan, the cost of fame is steep, but it comes with delicious perks. For $1,000, anyone can become a “Pop Star” at Pleasant Pops—an honor which involves naming your own flavor and getting a free popsicle every time you walk through the door of the store, which opens this July. The Pleasant Pops D.C. food truck started out as a single pushcart at farmers’ markets in 2010, but with two years of experience and the help of a Kickstarter campaign, Pleasant Pops co-owners Brian Sykora and Roger Horowitz are rolling their business into a full-fledged store.
“It was a natural progression,” Horowitz said. “We’ve always wanted to open a store, but didn’t have the time or money until now.” He and Sykora moved to D.C. after graduating from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill to work on the Obama campaign, but missed the Mexican street carts that sold paletas, or ice pops loaded with fresh fruit, back home in New York. Using local dairy and seasonal fruits, the two friends crafted their own grown-up versions of the popsicles in whimsical flavors like Avocado Cream and Peach Ginger, selling them out of the food truck they named “Big Poppa.”
But while Pleasant Pops wins hipster points for sourcing small-farm dairy and holding membership with Think Local First, the business is part of a rising trend. When the store on Florida Avenue and 18th Street opens, it will be the sixth food truck in the D.C. area to transition to a brick-and-mortar restaurant. District Taco, which also hoped to fill D.C.’s void of authentic Mexican fare, now operates a restaurant in Arlington and is opening another location on F Street this spring. Once a single truck, Sauca did not stop at opening up a store in Arlington—it now bills itself as a “global lifestyle brand,” and its website advertises the chance to cash in on “owning a gourmet food truck franchise.”
El Floridano and D.C. Empanadas are also settling down with permanent restaurants, but perhaps the most amusing truck-turned-establishment is PORC, which stands for Purveyors of Rolling Cuisine. PORC’s owners Josh Saltzman and Trent Allen recognized the irony in calling a sit-down restaurant “rolling,” so the name had to go. Food Truck Fiesta reported that the Columbia Heights restaurant opening later this year will be called the Kangaroo Boxing Club instead.
Because food trucks are all the rage from Los Angeles to D.C., the trend of trucks serving as training wheels for physical restaurants seems odd. After all, grounded establishments like Surfside and Sweetgreen progressed in the opposite direction, only adding trucks to their operations after thriving in restaurants. Even José Andrés now offers a taste of Minibar to us plebian masses with his new truck, Pepe.
A look at restaurant codes, however, explains the wave of trucks searching for permanent homes. As food-on-wheels entered into the mainstream over the past few years, individual cities scrambled to regulate the trendy trucks with a heap of ordinances. In L.A., food trucks need to post letter grades given out by health regulators. In Chicago, vendors were originally not allowed to prepare any food within the trucks themselves. Here in the District, trucks need to own or rent a licensed kitchen space to store and cook their cuisine.
For Pleasant Pops, it was a simple matter of economics. As Horowitz remarked, “you already need a licensed kitchen, so it makes sense if we’re paying crazy rent for that, we might as well have our own store.” The new Pleasant Pops Farmhouse Market and Café will offer the traditional menu of popsicles, along with sandwiches and a farmers’ market-esque grocery section filled with the same local dairy and produce that go into the icy treats.
But despite the stability that a brick-and-mortar store offers, running one also presents challenge not faced on the open road. “Last Friday, our architect told us we needed splash-proof ceilings if we’re going to be making sandwiches,” Horowitz said. “We might get too crazy with the tomatoes and send some juice flying.”