Maker: Nicole Dauria, owner & ‘popreneur’
Business: Pop Culture CLE, gourmet dessert shop in Solon offering popsicle-shaped ice cream sticks
My background in business, I spent over 20 years as an executive recruiter, helping companies find the best talent. When I wanted to get out of research, I needed back surgery, so it was a good time to change. I hosted a brunch at home just before my back surgery and had made a strawberry and basil popsicle. I really wanted to do it with booze, but it kept coming out muddy, so I just got a popsicle and stuck it in Prosecco, and it was amazing. A dear friend of mine told me it was the best thing she ever had and said, “You really should start a business. So I took some of my savings and bought some equipment, bought the ingredients and really dove into the craft of being a pastry chef with a focus on frozen desserts.
One of CLE’s Pop Culture bestsellers is s’mores on a stick, featuring a chocolate pastry cream frozen dessert with marshmallow creme and a graham cracker coating. [Jean-Marie Papoi / Ideastream Public Media]
There is a connection between art and pop culture, especially evident in your store. What is the backstory?
When we chose the name of our company, we wanted to play on the word to link the logos. But the word “popsicle” is a trade name owned by Unilever, so we couldn’t use “popsicle” anywhere in what we do. That’s kind of why I call it “ice cream on a popsicle-shaped stick.” In the end, we found the word “Pop Culture”. My daughter at the time was 10 and a budding artist, so I thought this would be a really fun way to tie art and a passion for food together. So the artwork is a big part of the store.
Illustrations reminiscent of famous pop artists such as Keith Haring and Andy Warhol add color and whimsy to the walls of the Pop Culture store. [Jean-Marie Papoi / Ideastream Public Media]
In May 2021, you opened your physical store in Solon. It must have been an exciting time for you and your growing business.
I’ve always wanted to start looking for my own space, and there’s this great area of Solon with these century-old houses on the corner of Bainbridge and Solon Road. I have always admired this area. I live in the community and loved these old houses. One of them hit the market and I jumped on it. I have an eye for design, so I was able to walk around the building and see if it was something I could change. And the before and after photos are just amazing. We took a very dark basement and turned it into a bright commercial kitchen. We have a service area, then we dine upstairs with our loft and we dine outside. We have built a terrace in the front and we have a terrace in the back.
Dauria’s brick-and-mortar location on Solon Rd. open May 2021. [Jean-Marie Papoi / Ideastream Public Media]
Now that you’ve settled into the Pop Culture dessert shop, what do you expect next?
Oh, I love what I do, but I’m looking forward to October when we’re done because it’s exhausting. I would say mid-April to mid-October, we’re just slammed. Our production schedule is continuous. Every day we just do. The next steps are what I think about all the time. My addition this year is our food truck and liquor license. We are going to build a bar downstairs and it will be called the “Ice Cream Barlour”. I know I’m corny but, “Poptails”, “Beercicles”, tipsy ice creams and boozy milkshakes. So we’re going to set that up and then maybe a second location or a second food truck.
The Pop Culture food truck has a busy schedule, making appearances at many local summer festivities this year. [Jean-Marie Papoi / Ideastream Public Media]
There seems to be a strong sense of camaraderie among small business owners in northeast Ohio. Was this also your experience?
I mean, we’re here to help each other. If someone can’t make it to an event, we have a great group of food truck operators and we’re a snap to call if anyone needs anything. It’s great to have a team of like-minded people. The local restaurants in the area are very supportive. They will call me to help organize an event if they don’t make desserts. So that’s really nice. It is refreshing. And it makes everyday life so much easier knowing you have a support group.
It’s not always easy to run your own business. What have been the challenges throughout your journey that you have encountered so far?
As an executive recruiter over the years, I’ve hired hundreds and hundreds of people, but I’ve never managed anyone. It was my first time managing people, and it was a challenge in itself – learning to work with a team and making it a cohesive unit. I have never repaired an ice cream maker or a dishwasher. I have never been in a kitchen and had to understand the nuances of the equipment. I was actually the general contractor on the construction of this property that we purchased. Learning to deal with all the different shades of code and understanding what I can and can’t do. Lots of challenges, things I’ve never done before. But I like to grow. I like to be challenged every day.
“I love running my own business,” Dauria said. “It’s just in my genes and I found out that my biological father was also an entrepreneur, so it came full circle.” [Jean-Marie Papoi / Ideastream Public Media]