Pop Culture Artisan Pops has turned boring snacks into modern, unique, and delicious culinary creations. (Photo courtesy of Justin Udom)

By Cameron Enomoto | Staff Writer

Traditional ice pops are frozen liquid on a stick. Most come in various colors with mediocre flavors, but where’s the fun in that? If you’re trying to kick back with a cool treat on a hot day, it should taste better than half-saturated ice and damp wood.

Justin Udom, KCC alum and owner of Pop Culture Artisan Pops, has redefined traditional ice pops. Being born and raised on Oʻahu, Udom recognized that ice pops are a staple among Hawaiʻi households and are a necessity during the summer. Having created over 60 flavors so far and more in the making, Pop Culture Artisan Pops has something for everyone to enjoy.

The idea for the business first came from Udom’s love of ice cream making during his spare time and he wasted no time in getting it off the ground during the pandemic.

“There are so many good companies and great innovators out there but I didn’t feel like anyone was taking a creative approach when it came to ice cream bars or pops,” Udom said. “With everything that happened with Covid, ice pops seemed like a better option than other products because it’s already prepackaged and easier to distribute. It was also more convenient for me to sell to places and have customers pick them up.”

Check out Pop Culture Artisan Pops next time you’re at Kakaʻako, Pearlridge, or Kailua farmers markets. (Photo courtesy of Justin Udom)

Udom started his business purely online and had his first sale in September 2020. From there, he partnered with local breweries to be designated pick-up locations since restaurants were restricted to pickup orders only. Customers could preorder through the Pop Culture Artisan Pops website and pick it up at places like Hāna Koa Brewing Co. and Inu Island Ales.

Once things started to open up more, Udom expanded to selling pops at farmers markets. Currently, he sells pops every weekend at Kakaʻako, Pearl Ridge, and Kailua farmers markets. After that, Pop Culture Artisan Pops moved to a larger kitchen for production, which enabled more opportunities for wholesale. While there is no brick-and-mortar store, Udom currently sells pops at 14 local businesses on Oʻahu and 1 store in Hilo. Each pop sells for $4.25 and comes in seasonal and forever flavors. By the end of the year, Udom’s goal is to sell pops at larger grocery stores.

“Right now, slow and steady works best,” Udom said. “I like controlled growth so that nothing is overwhelming or expanding too fast. I want to be able to control the quality of my product before I distribute it to other businesses.”

However, Udom’s business wasn’t born overnight.

While in high school and college, Udom worked every front-of-the-house position in a restaurant at least once. The 34-year-old was always set on opening his own business and eventually decided to go to KCC for culinary school to expand his knowledge.

“I thought to myself, ‘I can’t open my own business or company and not know how the kitchen operates,’” Udom said. “That’s why I chose to go into the culinary program.”

Prior to attending KCC in 2016, Udom attained his undergraduate degree as a Finance major with a minor in Accounting from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Udom studied at KCC from 2016 to 2018 and in his last semester of school, he did an internship at Livestock Tavern in Honolulu. After, he ended up working there and at its sister restaurant, Lucky Belly, eventually working his way up to the sous chef position.

These experiences guided Udom to envision what was attainable after he graduated. His first idea for a business was either a restaurant or a beer garden, but it was manufacturing that lead him to ice pops.

“My time in the KCC culinary program was phenomenal,” Udom said. “It was a lot of hours and hard work, but definitely worth it. I met amazing people along the way through volunteer work, competitions, and during the summers when I worked at restaurants.”

Udom’s long-term goal for his business is to expand to the mainland. He hopes to bring fun flavors and food innovation not only to Hawaiʻi but eventually to the rest of the United States as well or possibly abroad. In the future, he would like to expand manufacturing to mainland locations.

“Everything is always changing and you never know how things are going to go,” Udom said. “There are so many challenges, but as a small business owner, you have to do everything including the stuff you are not good at. I think it’s fun though, I’ve found that you do learn a lot by yourself and get through things when you encounter them.”

To order: Pop Culture Artisan Pops takes preorders on its website that will be available for pick-up at Aloha Farmlovers Kakaʻako and Pearlridge farmers markets from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. or on Sunday at Aloha Farmlovers Kailua farmers market from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Preorders placed on or before Friday will be available for that weekend. Orders placed on Saturday and Sunday will be ready for pickup the following week.