Six Strawberries puts a homemade spin on popsicles.
From a distance, the Broadway Farmer’s Market is a blur of white tents and green vegetables, where bicycle baskets overflow with local bacon and basil plants and bleary-eyed 20-somethings jockey for space alongside parents shepherding children. On a beautiful June Sunday, the whole event can make an overdressed Seattleite downright parched.
Relief isn’t far away. Across from a tamale stand and flower stall, Six Strawberries co-founder Vanessa Resler is peddling artisan, dairy-free ice pops, and business is booming.
“We’re killin’ it!” she exclaims, her eyes alight behind her turquoise Ray-Bans.
A grey-haired woman fishes money out of her fanny pack and buys the last strawberry pop, forcing the young tattooed lady behind her to go with blueberry lemonade. Next, a mother with impeccable crimson lipstick and an artfully ripped Gucci T-shirt buys a strawberry rhubarb pie pop for her son, and the pair happily melts back into the flow of market traffic.
Six Strawberries’ second season is off to an auspicious start. Last year, Resler recalls, she and her husband, Will Lemke, put the business together in only a month, with barely any capital beyond some Christmas money.
Their passion for frozen treats wasn’t what fueled Resler and Lemke into ice-pop overdrive. It was also a way for the couple to channel their grief over the loss of their third founder, Resler’s cousin Alex Goldberg.
For years, Lemke remembers, he and Resler had wondered: What’s the next cupcake? They zeroed in on ice pops, but the ideas really started flowing over a 2011 video chat with Alex, who was then in the hospital for heart disease as he had been too many times in his young life. When Alex passed away, they knew they had to make their pipe dream a reality.
Resler, a self-described “recovering CPA,” bartered accounting work for a custom-built, bike-towed cart to peddle their pops around town. Lemke started experimenting with flavors. His goals: Focus on local ingredients and create lactose-free creamy flavors.
Last summer was filled with sweaty bike rides, flavor disasters and hard-learned lessons in local vending permits. They loved every minute.
This year, the pair is getting serious. Lemke, a longtime filmmaker, closed up shop after a decade to focus on growing the brand. “There’s something endearing about homemade things,” he tells me in their commercial kitchen in Ballard. “But at the same time you have to better yourself.”
That means investing in professionally stamped packaging, but it also means he and Resler have to divide and conquer. They’ll get more done—and, she admits, splitting responsibilities will prevent them from murdering each other.
A professional karaoke host and amateur bodybuilder, Resler crunches numbers and handles most public sales. Lemke’s the mad scientist behind flavor development, and handles Six Strawberries’ impressive social media output.
From the beginning, these self-professed Internet nerds relied on tech savvy to get their fledgling business off the ground. Early on, flavor crowdsourcing was done on Reddit. Today, if you want to find the Six Strawberries bike as it goes from Ballard to South Lake Union, follow @SixStrawberries on Twitter. Tweet at them and they may even come to you.
Nerdier still is their meme-heavy farmer’s market display: Game of Thrones hero Ned Stark, strawberry pop in hand, glowers above the caption Ice-Pops Are Coming.
As they expand, these two Seattle natives remain dedicated to sourcing their ingredients locally. Caffé Vita latte is one of their most popular flavors, and their decadent fudge pop uses Theo chocolate. They’ve also been given the thumbs-up by Macklemore, who purchased hundreds of Six Strawberries’ pops for his fans twice in the last few months.
Photo by Miguel Edwards