People's Pops, Kelvin Slush, and Delaney Barbecue: A Small-Scale Food Revolution at Brooklyn's Pfizer Plant

Categories: Artisans

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Egan
"Should I turn the music down?" People's Pops founder Joel Horowitz asks as we embark on a tour of his ice pop manufacturing kitchen in Brooklyn. As explanation, he adds, "You don't make a tasty ice pop without loud music."

People's Pops headquarters is located at 630 Flushing Avenue on a nondescript stretch of road sandwiched between the Marcy projects (Jay-Z's provenance), Woodhull Hospital, and the sleepy, southernmost extension of Hasidic Williamsburg. Originally the Pfizer world headquarters, the building spans a city block, and it employed over 2,000 people in its heyday. In a corner lab several stories up, a doorman, somewhat wide-eyed and jabbing his index finger at the ceiling for emphasis, tells me, "They invented Viagra right up there!"

People's Pops is on the fourth floor near a big conveyor belt once used to bottle pills. It's one of many artisanal food startups that have opened in the building since Acumen Capital bought it in 2010.

Horowitz walks up to a table where Sharlena Powell is cutting fruit: "So much awesome fresh rhubarb," he says, glancing at a bucket of stems waiting for the axe. "This rhubarb was picked like, three days ago." It comes from Finger Lakes Farms and is about as fresh as any New Yorker can reasonably hope for--probably unnecessarily fresh, considering it will be cooked, frozen, packaged and shipped in an operation that's every bit as industrial as it is mom-and-pop.

We approach the stick-stamping station. "All of our sticks are hand-stamped," he says, noting the need for eagle-eye quality control, as mis-stamps happen. "Sometimes they say People's Poo," an employee chimes in, laughing above the music.

Across the room, Scott Morgenthaler pulls newly frozen pops from their molds. Later, they'll be packaged by a highly efficient but finicky machine from China that everyone affectionately calls "Xiè Xiè." ("That's 'thank you,' in Mandarin," Horowitz's partner David Carrell explains. "We do everything we can to keep her happy." Packaging the pops by hand is a nightmare.)

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When the tour is over, the partners feed me an ice pop--strawberry with Angostura bitters. The Angostura aromatics shine through at the back of the palate and add a nice complexity to a pop that's not actually bitter, which is delightful and kind of fun.

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