Sam’s Pop Shop slings popsicles made from real, local ingredients
For many parents, their toddler’s refusal to eat anything but dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets and sugary cereal is a nutritional nightmare. But for Emily and Leah Piccirillo, their kid’s finicky palate presented a business opportunity.
“He’s super picky,” Emily says, gesturing toward Sam, a two-year-old with ruddy cheeks, dusty blonde hair, and a gapped-tooth smile. “But he does love popsicles.”
Sadly, most store-bought pops are laden with high fructose corn syrup and hard-to-pronounce additives and preservatives. Which left Emily and Leah feeling a twinge of guilt each time Sam pleaded for a frozen treat. As nurses, they had both witnessed the long-term effects of a poor diet. “We were doing him a disservice,” Leah says.
Set on giving Sam a more salubrious snack, the pair began developing wholesome popsicle recipes featuring real food instead of heavily processed nonsense. To their surprise, Sam went crazy for the pops. In fact, he raved so much that Emily and Leah got to thinking: Could this be something bigger? Determined to find out, the two founded Sam’s Pop Shop in early spring.
Named after the picky eater himself, the boutique popsicle venture is all about local, seasonal produce and bold, surprising flavors. “Leah is totally the mastermind behind recipe development,” Emily says. “She always starts with what’s in season and goes from there.”
The Red Goat pop, for instance, pairs tangy cherries with goat chèvre from Three Graces Dairy. Then there’s the Roasted Peaches and Buttermilk pop — a rich, decadent dessert featuring farm-fresh peaches, cream from Mills River Creamery, and honey from Blue Ridge Apiaries.
“Every single popsicle incorporates quality ingredients,” Leah says.
But the couple’s path to crafting high-quality treats isn’t easy. When the two aren’t working long shifts at the hospital, they’re logging hours at Blue Ridge Food Ventures, a shared-use kitchen in Candler. And when they aren’t making pops, they’re selling them from an “icicle tricycle” — a trike equipped with a reach-in freezer — at tailgate markets and festivals.
Needless to say, Emily and Leah eat, sleep, and breathe popsicles — quite literally. Leah recalls the time she purchased and subsequently lost a pricey vial of saffron destined for the Mango Lassi pops.
“That night, I kept whispering ‘saffron’ in my sleep,” Leah laughs. “Obviously, I always have tabs open in my brain.”
But the worry has been worth it. Though Sam’s Pop Shop is still in its infancy, people are responding well to Emily and Leah’s healthy spin on a childhood classic. Sam is also really digging his moms’ new side hustle.
“He loves the Starry Night pop. It has Concord grape juice, blueberries, and edible glitter,” Leah says. “It’s delicious but also purple — his favorite color.”
Find Sam’s Pop Shop at the Mills River Farmers’ Market (94 School House Road, Mills River) Saturdays on Aug. 6, Sept. 3, Sept. 17, and Oct. 22 from 8am to noon. For additional locations and information about catering and delivery, call 828-775-9105 or see samspopshop.com.