SALT LAKE CITY — Mark Wilson, general manager of Salt Lake City-based Rimini Coffee, said he didn't have to ponder his response when he heard that University of Utah graduate student Darby Bailey McDonough was set to launch a business making coffee popsicles.
"That's a brilliant idea and I want one now," Wilson told McDonough when she came to him looking for a consultation on coffee varieties a few months back.
Now, McDonough is working to put her company, Coffee Pops, on the map and get one of her popsicles in the hands of everyone who wants to cool down with an icy-cold, and decidedly local, frozen coffee treat. Thanks to some familial ties, chasing a coffee-related business idea was a natural move for McDonough
"Three of my six brothers are in the coffee business, and I've worked in various jobs in the industry from barista to branding and marketing," McDonough said. "It's been a big part of my work life."
McDonough recently returned to school, enrolling at the U.'s David Eccles School of Business in the graduate information systems program, but she knew going in that she wanted to also work on an entrepreneurial project. While coffee was always at the core of her startup thoughts, the popsicle treat idea was equal parts iteration and serendipity.
"I started out trying to develop a shelf-stable, single-serving cold brew coffee that would just require adding water," McDonough said. "And, I won a small grant through Lassonde's Get Seeded competition."
That cash infusion helped McDonough keep moving forward with developing the cold brew concept, but she ran into some issues that, while surmountable, required a capital investment she just wasn't prepared to make. So, she turned to the Lassonde Institute's executive director, Troy D'Ambrosio, and after a mentoring meeting, came out with popsicles on her mind.
"My first move was just checking the market to see what was out there," McDonough said.
And, to her surprise, the business space for frozen coffee on a stick appeared unoccupied.
"I couldn't find any popsicle line dedicated to coffee, which I honestly couldn't believe," McDonough said. "So, I pivoted from the cold brew project and immediately started work on developing the pops," McDonough said.
McDonough took on a partner, John Faulkner, who came with expertise in the food product industry and, with the coffee consult (and specialty coffee product) from Rimini's Wilson, and further support from her Lassonde network, brought Coffee Pops into the world.
"Our first two flavors are latte and mocha," McDonough said. "And we're working on a slightly sweetened black coffee as well."
McDonough and Faulkner are sharing a kitchen space in the London Market near Liberty Park, sharing time with the baker who owns the space and, right now, working furiously to build up inventory for sales at summer festivals, including some big ones like the Pioneer Day celebration at Liberty Park and a booth at the Utah State Fair. They're also working on developing a number of additional products, which McDonough said she's keeping under wraps but "will be awesome."
D'Ambrosio said McDonough's undertaking was notable among the student-led startups coming out of the Lassonde program last year.
“Darby is one of our standout student entrepreneurs this year,” D'Amborsio said. “She is developing a line of coffee food products, and we are glad to support her progress and watch her company grow."
As for the local market for lover's of coffee, Wilson said Rimini has seen growth since the company launched in 1992 and, over the last few years, a surge in interest in specialty coffees. And, nationally, the world of coffee and coffee products is enormous and growing.
According to the National Coffee Association, the U.S. coffee industry generated more than $225 billion in economic output in 2015 with consumers spending $74 billion on the brew. And, coffee drinking is on the rise after a few years of declines, with the association reporting that 62 percent of Americans currently drink coffee on a daily basis, up from 57 percent in 2016.
McDonough and Faulkner are working hard, making popsicles by hand from local ingredients, and striving toward converting these numerous coffee devotees into Coffee Pops customers, one great, and chilly, experience at a time. The duo are also hoping to move their products into a retailer near you, soon.
"They really are delicious and the perfect summer treat," McDonough said.
For now, look for Coffee Pops at your favorite summer festival or, stop by the coffee shop at the Salt Mine Coworking Space, 7984 S. 1300 East, Sandy, to give one a try.