Katie Haley, Alex Merrill

Katie Haley, Alex Merrill

Steel City Pops, a gourmet frozen treat joint, aims to open on Lower Greenville on May 15. The owner, Jim Watkins, launched the idea in his home state Alabama in 2012, and now he’s bringing it to East Dallas. We sat down with kitchen manager Katie Haley and operations manager Alex Merrill to investigate: What exactly is a gourmet frozen treat?

Advocate: Alex, tell me a bit about your background with the company.

Alex Merrill: I’m currently the operations manager (at the Greenville location), but I was one of the first kitchen managers in Birmingham, and one of the recipe developers.

Katie Haley: Alex knows all the ins-and-outs. I’m very new to the company, but Alex was basically there from the beginning.

Advocate: When was the concept launched in Birmingham?

Alex Merrill: May 19, 2012. So we’re honing in on our second birthday. We’re just kind of interested to see where it grows.

Advocate: So why East Dallas? In particular, was there anything about that location on Lower Greenville?

Alex Merrill: Our owner has a lot of connections here. He went to Baylor and his wife’s family is from here. The Lower Greenville area is really similar to where we got our start in Birmingham. It has that kind of off-the-beaten-path, up-and-coming, kinda-hipster vibe. Family friendly but not suburbia is where we already exist, so that’s where we want to be in the market.

Advocate: How does the flavor-testing process work?

Alex Merrill: Mostly it’s just someone has an idea and we play around with it. Or a customer has a special request for an event, and that causes us to have to be more creative to try different things. Or we’ll get in touch with a local farmer and try their different products. There’s no set way. We just play around with things.

Katie Haley: A lot of trial and error.

Advocate: Do y’all use flavors or — say if you have a flavor, like raspberry lemon is one of your flavors — do you actually take raspberries and lemons and create the flavor?

Alex Merrill: We’re all natural, organic when we can, locally sourced for the most part, so we don’t do any artificial flavors. No colors. No dyes. It is raspberries, lemon juice, organic sugar and water.

Advocate: So hibiscus?

Alex Merrill: Yep.

Advocate: Wait, what about creamy flavors like chocolate or peanut butter?

Alex Merrill: Yeah we have things like chocolate and buttermilk, and it tastes just like cheesecake; it’s our best seller. We have peanut butter, chocolate mint, gingerbread, pumpkin spice.

Advocate: So that’s actual peanut butter?

Alex Merrill: M-hm.

Advocate: Where did the concept for the business originate?

Alex Merrill: Paletas are a Mexican tradition, and the owner was inspired by Las Paletas in Nashville.

Katie Haley: It surprised me a lot. I wasn’t really familiar with the company before I came on board. I was always like, “Eh, it’s a cherry Popsicle.” I never thought of them being gourmet or anything interesting. I just think it’s really interesting the direction they’ve taken it, and the creativity involved. I’ve tried things in Popsicles that I’ve never even tried by itself before.

Advocate: Like hibiscus.

Katie Haley: Right. Or rhubarb — what? So I like that it’s like, let’s show people what’s accessible to them, things in their community that they could use outside of a popsicle as well.

Advocate: Obviously we think of popsicles as a kid treat, but who is this marketed to?

Alex Merrill: It’s been surprising how we’ll be reserved (to vend with carts) for wedding receptions or tailgate parties — more adult-centered things. I don’t think anybody anticipated that.

Advocate: Anything you’d like to add?

Alex Merrill: I think one of our favorite things is that one of our products 100 percent of the profits goes to building fresh water wells in India and Africa. It’s bottled water, and it seems expensive, but we give 100 % of the profits. We have a well in India and we’re building an entire water plant factory in Uganda right now. So that’s something we’re really passionate about. That’s the whole drive behind the business, to be as philanthropic as we can.

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