Making It: Pop Culture CLE brings handmade frozen desserts to Solon

Maker: Nicole Dauria, owner & ‘popreneur’

Business: Pop Culture CLE, a gourmet dessert shop in Solon featuring ice cream on a stick in the shape of a popsicle

What kind of business were you in before starting Pop Culture CLE?

My business background, I spent over 20 years as an executive search, helping businesses find top talent. At the time of wanting to get out of search, I needed to have back surgery, so it was a good time to make a switch. I hosted a brunch at the house right before my back surgery and had made a strawberry basil popsicle. I really wanted to make it with alcohol but it kept coming out slushy, so I settled for a popsicle and stuck it into Prosecco, and it was amazing. One of my dear friends had mentioned to me that it was the best thing she ever had and said, ‘You should really start a business.’ So I took some of my savings and bought some equipment, bought the ingredients and really immersed myself into being a pastry chef with an emphasis on frozen desserts.

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One of Pop Culture CLE's bestsellers is s'mores on a stick, featuring a chocolate custard frozen dessert with marshmallow cream and a graham cracker coating. [Jean-Marie Papoi / Ideastream Public Media]

There’s a bit of an art tie-in with Pop Culture, especially evident in your shop. What’s the backstory?

When we were coming up with the name of our business, we wanted to play on the word to tie the logos in. But the word ‘popsicle’ is a trade name owned by Unilever, so we couldn't use ‘popsicle’ anywhere in what we do. That's kind of why I call it ‘ice cream on a stick in the shape of a popsicle.’ The bottom line, we came up with the word ‘Pop Culture.’ My daughter at the time was 10 years old and is a budding artist, so I thought it would be a really fun way to tie art and the passion of food together. So the artwork is a big part of the store.

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Illustrations reminiscent of famed pop artists such as Keith Haring and Andy Warhol add color and whimsey to the walls of the Pop Culture shop. [Jean-Marie Papoi / Ideastream Public Media]

In May of 2021, you opened your brick-and-mortar location in Solon. That had to have been an exciting moment for you and your growing business.

I always wanted to start looking for my own space, and there's this great area of Solon with these century homes on the corner of Bainbridge and Solon Road. I've always admired this area. I live in the community and loved these old houses. One of them came on the market, and I jumped on it. I have an eye for design, so I was able to walk through the building and see if it was something I could change. And the before and after pictures are just amazing. We took a very dark basement and made it into a bright commercial kitchen. We have service area, and then we have dining on the upper floor with our loft and we have dining outside. We built a deck in the front and we have a deck in the back.

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Dauria's brick-and-mortar location on Solon Rd. opened in May of 2021. [Jean-Marie Papoi / Ideastream Public Media]

Now that you’re settled into the Pop Culture dessert shop, what are you looking forward to next?

Oh, I love what I do, but I look forward to October when we're done because it's exhausting. I would say mid-April through mid-October we are just slammed. Our production schedule is nonstop. Every day we are just making. The next steps are what I think about all the time. My addition this year is our food truck and a liquor license. We'll be building a bar downstairs and it's going to be called the ‘Ice Cream Barlour.’ I know I'm corny but, ‘Poptails,’ ‘Beercicles,’ tipsy ice cream and boozy milkshakes. So we're going to get that up and running and then maybe a second location or a second food truck.

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The Pop Culture food truck has a jampacked schedule, making appearances at many local summer festivities this year. [Jean-Marie Papoi / Ideastream Public Media]

There seems to be a strong sense of camaraderie between small business owners in Northeast Ohio. Has that also been your experience? 

I mean, we're here to help each other. If somebody can't show up at an event, we have a really good group of food truck operators and we call each other in a pinch if somebody needs something. It's great to have a team of like-minded individuals. The local restaurants in the area are very supportive. They’ll call me in to help cater an event if they don't do desserts. So it's really nice. It's refreshing. And it makes the day-to-day a lot easier knowing you have a support group.

It’s not always easy running your own business. What were some challenges along your journey that you’ve experienced thus far?

Being an executive search all those years, I hired hundreds and hundreds of people, but I never managed anyone. This was my first time managing people, and that was a challenge in itself -- learning how to work with a team and make it a cohesive unit. I never fixed an ice cream machine before or had to fix a dishwasher. I was never in a kitchen and had to figure out the nuances of the equipment. I was actually the general contractor on the buildout of this property that we bought. Learning to deal with all the different nuances of codes and understanding what I can and can't do. Lots of challenges, things that I've never done before. But I love growing. I like being challenged every day.

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"I love running my own business," Dauria said. "It's just been in my genes and come to find out, my biological father was also an entrepreneur, so it came full circle." [Jean-Marie Papoi / Ideastream Public Media]

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