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Davis, California

Monday, September 20, 2021

Q&A with Sarah Stewart of Pop Nation

Davis resident Sarah Stewart started a food cart business with her husband and two friends selling popsicles in the Bay Area. These aren’t just ordinary popsicles, however. Through email, Stewart discussed with The Aggie the use of local organic ingredients from Dixon to Salinas for her popsicle business. The sale of vegan and gluten-free popsicles has been thriving since its beginning in 2011.

The Aggie: What is Pop Nation and what is the story behind the name?

Stewart: Pop Nation is a gourmet popsicle company. We’re a family-run business, started in 2011 by myself, my brother, Tim Stewart and two friends, Anne and Mark McGinty. As for our name, The Pop Nation, we tossed around a lot of options when we were deciding what to call our company. In fact, we even had a few rounds of “votes” to try to narrow the list, but at the last minute I threw “Pop Nation” into the mix, and the voting stopped there. We all liked the ring of “Pop Nation” and the images it conjured of thousands of pops working together … reaching perhaps (someday!) from coast to coast.

How and when did it get started?

About a year and a half ago, Anne, Mark, Tim and I were all in transition with the same end goal in mind: food. I was ready to leave my desk job in San Francisco and head east to Davis. I knew I wanted to work in food, and a food cart was top on my list. Tim had packed his belongings, said goodbye to Willow Hill Farm in Vermont where he was an artisan cheese maker, and was San Francisco-bound. At the same time, Annie and Mark were also contemplating starting a food cart that would be a summer seasonal business for them.

Once we learned of each other’s plans we knew we’d make a great team, each bringing different strengths and interests to the partnership.

Tim has a background in food, and endless energy to make sure all the carts are exactly where they need to be at all times. Mark brings his laid-back Kiwi attitude as well as a degree in manufacturing and a background in electrical engineering which are both useful on the production side. Anne and I focus on business administration, and she specialized in business development. My location in Davis, with access to all that the fertile Central Valley has to offer, has landed me the job of sourcing all of the ingredients that go into our pops which means I have the pleasure of working with many of the local farms and produce distributors in the area.

What is considered “local” when you use local ingredients?

We feel so fortunate to have started Pop Nation in California because of all of the farms and produce outlets in the area.

Our local produce comes from a number of farms in the immediate vicinity including Cloverleaf Farm, Bridgeway Farm and Eatwell Organics in Dixon. We also work with Capay Organics in Esparta, and Alba Farms in Salinas. We forage at the San Francisco Whole Produce Market, and I’ve been known to troll the farm stands on I-80 from Sacramento all the way to the Bay Area filling the back of my Tacoma with perfectly ripe peaches, melt-in-your-mouth apricots and crisp watermelons!

Our pops are vegan and gluten-free, and made with organic ingredients whenever possible. We’re very conscious to not over-sweeten and we don’t use refined white sugar — we like alternatives like sucanat, coconut palm sugar and other unrefined sweeteners. They’re high-quality pops, made with love, and it shows. One might say, the proof is in the pop.

Why vegan and gluten-free?

We’ve found that offering vegan and gluten-free options has worked out very well. We are often the only food option for those with dietary restrictions at events, fairs, festivals and markets — which means we encounter some very happy and grateful customers. None of the four of us co-founders are vegan or gluten-free, so when we’re taste testing our pops we hold our product to the same standards as any other frozen treat. Our Strawberries ‘n Cream with Basil has to be as creamy as the smoothest dairy-based ice creams we’ve tasted!

How many Pop Nations are there?

Currently, we have six Pop Nation carts that roam between Sacramento, Davis, Oakland, San Francisco, Marin and Sonoma County.

Is it available in Davis considering it’s a health-conscious city?

The two closest outlets to Davis where you can find Pop Nation pops are at the Cloverleaf Farm Stand, at the Kidwell Exit off of I-80, and at the GOOD: Street Food + Design Market in Sacramento. We’d love to bring our pops to more locations in the area!

MEE YANG can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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