Despite being a record day of heat for Anchorage, Kait Reiley got some weird looks for selling Popsicles this month. It wasn't that Reiley was out of place necessarily, but riding around on her lime green Schwinn fixed-gear bike through Westchester Lagoon and downtown selling handmade Popsicles with flavors like “hibiscus lime” was enough to turn heads.
For the last year, Reiley has been crafting and selling PopCycles -- her handmade, locally sourced ice pops to residents of Alaska's largest city -- all while riding on “Millie,” her custom-built bicycle, which she loads up with icy treats to send out to the masses.
So far, it seems to be well received. On a typical Saturday at the Spenard Farmers Market, Reiley will sell hundreds of pops to ice-starved Alaskans. She has a loyal following of PopCycle addicts, who sometimes make rounds of downtown Anchorage in hopes of catching Reiley on her bicycle.
“This is awesome,” said Martin Guarderas, slurping on a lime pop in front of his Husky Dogs hot dog stand off of Fourth Avenue. “I've heard lots of good things.”
Guarderas said he always has people asking for ice cream at his hot dog cart, one of half-dozen that line the busy street -- full of out-of-state visitors and Anchorage residents taking advantage of a sunny lunch break. While the hot dog vendors are numerous, the ice cream trucks are not.
“These are great! Come back every day!” said one man as he walked back to work after munching down a coconut pop in front of the Federal Building.
Just going for it
As far as she knows, Reiley is the only bike business roving Anchorage and likely all of Alaska. Reiley has been hitting the streets, parks and markets of Anchorage for the last year, offering up “traditional” flavors like lime, coconut and blueberry, but from there, things get a little wild. Flavors like lemon ginger mint, latte, key lime pie and peach cardamom make regular appearances. She's working on creating a crabapple, cucumber mojito and banana-maple pudding pops. So far, Reiley has a total of 25 rotating flavors, with more in the works.
“I make ones up as I go,” she said in her Westchester Lagoon backyard recently.
Reiley's operation is small and as locally sourced as possible. A self-described foodie, she makes all of the pops herself, using as many ingredients as she can from her backyard garden. Carrots for spicy carrot cake pops grow in a raised bed. Rhubarb from her small patch gets frozen and processed into rhubarb pops.
That rhubarb pop served as the catalyst for the endeavor when a friend gave Reiley a bag of frozen rhubarb last year. Unsure what to do with it, she decided to put it through a food mill and make Popsicles. They were a hit.
“Our friends were like, 'This is awesome!'” she said. “So we just went for it.”
Reiley found the bike -- a rusted-out, custom-built bike originally designed to hold gear for bike polo -- and gave it a fresh paint job, naming it “Millie.” A year later, she has a steady stream of PopCycle addicts. They follow her moves on Facebook, chasing her through downtown or line up early at the Spenard Farmer's Market to get one of her handmade pops.
She likes the idea of using a bike to carry her pops around. It's low impact to the environment and sustainable. Her grandparents were Christmas tree farmers who won award for sustainable farming practices, and after pursing a degree in hotel and restaurant management, working on PopCycle seemed like the best way to go.
“Being a foodie has always been in my blood,” she said. “I think I was always destined to do something with food.”
Ice pops for the people
This spring, Reiley took her first big step toward expansion by going to Kickstarter to raise funds to purchase a 7-foot by 12-foot trailer to make her pops in. Before she would rent space in a commercial kitchen to make her pops. That meant long, late hours -- usually going in to work at midnight, the only time available to have access to the space.
With the new trailer -- which she's warmly named “Bitsy” -- she can produce more pops when she wants to and at her own pace.
Reiley is also looking at expanding her range with the trailer. With more pops and a new bike cooler -- which will hold more pops and keep them cooler longer -- she's hoping to pedal all the way to East Anchorage's Goose Lake on warm days or beyond, including maybe taking the trailer to the Girdwood Forest Fair or Alaska State Fair.
“There's definitely room to grow with this,” she said.
While Reiley might be the only bike food vendor in Anchorage, she hopes she won't be the last. She's been in touch with people in other places interested in start-bike businesses, and who knows? With food trucks gaining a foothold in Anchorage, could bike food carts be the next new thing?
“Who knows, maybe we could start a bike gang,” she joked.
Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)alaskadispatch.com