Posted by: lisetta | July 6, 2012

Lil’ Pop Shop

In the eleven years that I’ve lived in University City, Philadelphia, much has changed. Hipsters moved in, small restaurants and food shops have opened, and bikes seem to outnumber cars. There are many things I’ve really grown to love here. The Lil’ Pop Shop is not one of them.

It’s a small – and funky-smelling – storefront hawking “artisanal” popsicles in whimsical flavors like peach rosemary, mango yogurt, blueberry coconut something or other, goat cheese something or other and insert fruit + herb/cream/yogurt here. They sell for $3 and are about 4 inches long and an inch thick. Here’s a quick snapshot of the one I ate (in about ten bites).

The smallest and least flavorful popsicle I’ve ever eaten.

It tasted like pureed canned peaches and weak rosemary essence, no kidding. There was no subtlety, no summertime sweetness, no balance of flavors, and no pleasure beyond the cool mouth feel on a hot evening. The four of us tasted each others’ choices; one of us liked his, one was indifferent, one didn’t like it, and one felt totally ripped off. (That last “one” was me, and I didn’t even pay for it!)

I really do appreciate the spirit of the small business owner here, and do sincerely hope that the shop does well beyond its inaugural season.  They are trying something new to the neighborhood and marketing well to the privileged Penn crowd.

Perhaps my gripe with Lil’ Pop Shop is really a gripe about the neighborhood, which aspires to be trendy with trends copied from elsewhere. The NYT wrote about artisanal popsicles over two years ago, for example. When I first tasted People’s Pops in Chelsea Market a few years ago, I was both enticed and delighted by their creative flavor combinations and their pitch.  Encountering a similar pitch – and far weaker execution – two years later in my own neighborhood holds neither intrigue nor joy.

But there’s something deeper, too: can copying another’s ideas and pouring liquids into freezer molds really be called “artisanal”? Does ‘artisanal’ no longer imply craft and artistry, but simply “handmade”? Has the word simply become yet another empty marketing trend?

If you seek inspiration from a real artisan, check out Artisanal Pencil Sharpening, by author David Rees, who “considers it a privilege to sharpen pencils for friends and strangers”. I encourage you to buy his book, to click on the video link on his website, or watch his recent performance in Richmond below.


  1. Hi Lisetta,

    Thanks for coming by our shop and the feedback. I’m sorry that it wasn’t a better experience for you, and I hope you’ll give us a second chance to change your mind.

    Regarding the funky smell – we had picked up a few boxes of ripe cantaloupes from the farmer’s market earlier in the day, and didn’t realize how strong their scent would be! Our apologies for that – we’ll make sure we’re better prepared for cantaloupes next time.

    Perhaps a bit of background about what we envisioned for the shop would be useful.

    We know that handcrafted popsicles are nothing new (Jeanne’s inspiration partly came from LocoPops in Durham, NC), but the goal wasn’t to create something “trendy” or targeted at hipsters. The thought was that popsicles crafted from seasonal fruit and dairy from local farms would be a tasty and healthier alternative to ice cream or cake for dessert. Jeanne previously worked as a pastry chef and loves baking, but was concerned about the fact that cakes have very little nutritional value, especially for kids. While we of course also appeal to college students, 44th street is actually a bit out of the range that most Penn students frequent, and our real target audience has been the families in our neighborhood (Jeanne lives a couple blocks away).

    I know that $3 seems pricey compared to a supermarket popsicle, but another way to look at it is that a frappaccino at starbucks is $3.50, a scoop at Ben & Jerry’s is $4, and a scoop of gelato or sorbet at Capogiro is $4.50.

    I’d like to invite you back to the shop with a friend to try a couple more flavors on the house. I’d love to see if there’s a different flavor that inspires your palate more. Please let whoever it is at the counter know that Vince sent you.

    Kind regards,
    Vince Tseng
    co-owner, Lil’ Pop Shop

  2. Hi Vince,

    Thanks for your comment here, and for sharing your vision for your shop. As I wrote, I really do wish you well in your endeavor, and hope that you do succeed for more than one season. I’m sure lots of people in the neighborhood appreciate your presence, as evidenced by the flurry of buzz your shop opening has created.

    I’m a fan of supporting locally owned businesses, and choose the handmade over the corporate any day. The price of the popsicle itself isn’t troublesome, it’s what we got for the price, and how it’s marketed. Its quality and value were unimpressive, in my view. Moreover, making popsicles is hardly an artisanal craft, as it requires no skill of note.

    Capogiro, in my view, does merit “Gelato Artisans” in its name, as they do demonstrate artisan craft. They have brought a longstanding Italian tradition to the city and elevated it to a new experience. They haven’t copied the typical gelato shop in Italy, but ‘created’ new flavors of gelato such as rosemary goat cheese, Thai coconut milk, and pineapple-sage. Making gelato *is* an artisan craft, in my view. It not only requires a deep understanding of ingredients, but also a sophisticated understanding of production. Stephanie and John succeed not only in bringing something new to market (both here and in blow back to gelato shops in Italy), but also in delighting/intriguing their customers every visit. When I pay $4.50 for a super small scoop of gelato there, I’m paying for the experience of pleasure as well as their artistry, their store (which never smells), their service and their mission. Lots of people in the neighborhood, however, are not willing to pay so much for ‘ice cream’, especially when they can buy a gallon of ice cream for less a half a block away. So the market goes.

    Thank you for your offer to visit Lil Pop Shop again. I’ll let my friends know about it! They often disagree with – and make fun of – my ‘unwarranted conclusions’ about places we eat. They also have way more friends in the neighborhood than I do, and will gladly support word-of-mouth marketing should your other flavors be appealing. 🙂



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