It’s almost summer time, the official season of sweat stains and sunburns. Luckily Lake Charles has its own unique way of staying cool—gourmet pops from Pops and Rockets. These frozen treats are more than just a way to chill in the unforgivable sun; they act as a liaison between customer and creative opportunity. To understand the link, we have to take a look at the roots of the company.
After being apart for 15 years, longtime friends Nick Villaume and Robbie Austin reconnected in Lake Charles. It was a hot summer’s day that convinced Villaume to start a business of gourmet pops. He knew of such businesses in other cities, but Lake Charles was lacking in that department. Business savvy Villaume asked Austin to be the creative mind behind the pops. Together the duo created Pops and Rockets. They took their mutual love for all things 80’s and decided to name their gourmet pops after 80’s songs. A few pop names include Blister in the Sun, which is a song by Violent Femmes, and 99 Red Doubloons, which is a play on 99 Red Balloons, and was created just for Contraband Days. If you’re more concerned about taste than names, you’re in luck. These gourmet pops are delicious. Blister in the Sun is a combination of pineapple and ginger with a raspberry frozen inside, while 99 Red Doubloons tastes like a virgin strawberry pina colada. There are plenty of flavors from which to choose, ranging from traditional to the "I didn’t know you could juice ginger, but holy moly, this pop is delicious!” Don’t worry, parents. These gourmet pops are family friendly and contain no alcohol.
The Pop Lab, as owners Villaume and Austin like to call it, is where the two friends get together and collaborate on ideas for their gourmet pops. Their process requires creativity, trial and error, and of course, lots of 80’s music.
The creative process involved in creating these delicious gourmet pops is very much an art form in itself. With some inspiration from the 80’s, Austin focuses on three important elements: flavor, presentation, and title.
In regards to flavor, there’s a lot of trial-and-error involved. If something doesn’t work, they don’t scrap the idea or give up on it; instead, they learn from it and try it a different way. Austin doesn’t get stressed out.
"The possibilities cannot be exhausted,” Austin says.
Presentation can be a bit tricky.
"How do you create a pop with a raspberry in it that floats in the middle instead of floating at the top of bottom?” Villaume asks. They are weary of creating pops that taste great but look unappealing. It’s been suggested that they create a spiral pop with two different flavors spinning around each other. "How can we ensure that if we use red and white, that the pop won’t come out pink?” It can be complicated but Austin and Villaume are relentless. They’ll master these techniques just like they’ve mastered others (like juicing ginger).
Giving a pop a name can be a little worrisome. Austin wonders if customers will get the reference. For those who do, it’s an "ah-ha” moment. For Pops and Rockets, the names of their pops set them apart from others.
For Villaume, one of the most stressful parts of pop making is the anticipation of the final product. For Austin, he worries about disappointing the customer. Like an artist presenting his work at an art show, Austin feels anxious and excited when a new gourmet pop is ready to be sold.
"When you’ve created something that otherwise wouldn’t exist, it leaves you vulnerable,” Austin says. This is especially true of new flavors that customers may be hesitant to try.
Pops and Rockets officially began last year and sold their first pop on July 29, 2014. Now, just shy of the company’s one-year anniversary, Pops and Rockets has made quite a name for itself. Though they don’t offer in-house retail, they do provide their services at local events. They sold gourmet pops at the Art Walk and Contraband Days. They are also at the Farmer’s Market regularly. The future holds opportunity, though. In the not-so-distant future, Pops and Rockets plan to sell their gourmet pops at local businesses in the Lake area. In addition, they plan to open up their own retail area at their current location. Villaume and Austin plan to take their business beyond Lake Charles, as well, though they refuse to abandon the Lake area.
"Pops and Rockets is more than a business; it’s about the idea of bolstering the confidence of our community and creating opportunities and a creative environment for people to enjoy.”