by Catherine Monson
Coconut Pineapple Paradise. Summer Strawberry. Merry Mountain Berry. With these variations, a team of St. Olaf College students has set out to provide the surrounding Northfield community with a premature taste of summer.
Made by Oles for Oles, JonnyPops, the frozen gourmet treats being sold on campus and in downtown Northfield, are a product of the time, energy, and ambition of four budding entrepreneurs. Sophomores Erik Brust, Connor Wray, Andrew Sather, and Kilian Wald (pictured) bonded as first-year students through their self-formed investment club, and in 2010 they decided to start a business that would combine an alternative dessert with locally available ingredients.
“JonnyPops is a homegrown Minnesota company,” says Wray. “The product is made here, we source as much of our fresh produce as possible here, and we’ve launched here. Right now, the entire business is centered in Northfield. It really fits in with the culture of sustainability at St. Olaf.”
Making a plan
Although the four St. Olaf students, along with University of Wisconsin-Madison junior Spencer Uttley, have developed their own business model, JonnyPops is the brainchild of Jonathan “Jonny” Jeffrey, a cousin of chief founder Brust. In 2007 Brust and his cousin talked about how fun it would be to own a gourmet frozen pop business. After Jeffrey died in 2010 from the effects of a drug addiction, Brust decided to act upon the idea that the two had discussed, naming the business after Jeffrey and pledging to donate a portion of the profits to the Hazelden Foundation, a Minnesota-based addiction treatment center.
To create and implement their business plan, the four students worked full-time on JonnyPops during Interim. They collaborated with a professional chef to add a gourmet twist to the recipes, using vitamin supplements and inspiring the slogan “All Natural. All Delicious. No Artificial Anything.” When in season, all of their raspberries and strawberries will come from Lorences Berry Farm in Northfield.
After obtaining the proper FDA certification, JonnyPops went on sale April 2 at the Cage, St. Olaf’s centrally located coffee shop and grill, and at Hogan Brothers, a popular cafe in downtown Northfield. The sweet treats will also be distributed to visiting students at admissions events throughout the year. Brust says he has worn many different hats to create JonnyPops, learning about all parts of the process from marketing and sales to finance and production. “I think that a lot of our success in getting the business running has come from a versatile, liberal arts education,” he says.
St. Olaf President David R. Anderson is a strong supporter of the business ventures of St. Olaf students. “Every Ole will be asked, whether in the workplace or in their civic or other engagements, to find solutions to problems,” he says. “Entrepreneurism cultivates the imagination, the creativity, the problem solving, and the tenacity that lead to solutions. It’s a great life skill.”
The creativity and problem-solving skills the JonnyPops team has already learned no doubt will carry their business into the future. Their current machinery has the capacity to produce up to 5,000 pops per day. Although current demand isn’t that high, they plan to expand their business to the Twin Cities this summer. They hope to rent a trailer to sell JonnyPops at the Minnesota State Fair, in addition to area zoos, museums, restaurants, and farmers’ markets.
“Oles create projects and businesses that are legitimate, have a creative flair and focus, and an eye toward building something sustainable,” says Kyle. “I think that’s cool.”