Coming to Vliet Street on the West Side: Pete’s Pops

Frozen fruit bars as a positive force on the West Side? That’s what the brick-and-mortar Pete’s Pops aims to do.

Photo by Adam Ryan Morris

Brain freeze is a common, benign summer condition afflicting those who reach for an ice pop as an antidote to heat. Pete Cooney knows all about it. The St. Louis native rolled out his first flavor – a creamy, not too sweet avocado – via Pete’s Pops push cart at area farmers markets in 2014. Since then, he’s perfected the seasonal and regular flavor list but delayed expanding, partly because he loves his day job (controller for Pabst Theater Group). But this summer, you can expect buzz about this community-building business as the production headquarters/walkup window settles into its West Side digs. Cooney shared some of the Pete’s Pops ethos:

In 2016 you won a small-business competition that helped pave the way for a Pete’s Pops storefront at 3809 W. Vliet St. Why did you choose this location?

The neighborhood checked a lot of boxes for me. … It’s on a major corridor [Tosa to Downtown] that I believe someday can and will be better connected. It’s also near Washington Park, which has … even more untapped potential. [Plus,] being an anchor and doing our part to make the neighborhood the best it can be is part of the Pops message.

How do you plan to balance the accelerated pop production and numbers-crunching?

I hired my friend Edson Juarez to run the day-to-day, full-time. The plan is to give him the road map to grow Pete’s Pops. We’ve got six carts now. This is also about building momentum for other businesses to move in.

What inspired you to go into the frozen pop business?

I had always been very interested in food. And I had stumbled across a few pop businesses in other parts of the country and thought it was such a cool idea. Once I started doing research, it seemed to be at the perfect intersection of food and small business and something I thought I could pull off.

What’s your game plan?

To start, we’ll open on Fridays and Saturdays at noon and stay open all day. Once the summer is in full swing, maybe we open every day. Our goal, flavor-wise, is to have something new each week. Salted Watermelon [fruity, icy] is a best seller, and [creamy, rich] Coffee ’N Doughnuts has a pretty passionate following as well.

“Pop Star” appears in the July 2018 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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Ann Christenson has covered dining for Milwaukee Magazine since 1997. She was raised on a diet of casseroles that started with a pound of ground beef and a can of Campbell's soup. Feel free to share any casserole recipes with her.