By DEBBIE FLESSNER
In 2009, Donna Tortorice was making handcrafted Popsicles at home and selling them from a pushcart at farmers’ markets.
Within a few years, she figured that her little business was going so well she could open up a storefront on Bee Ridge Road, in Sarasota. In 2012, she started Pop Craft with her son Martin, who was a trained sommelier, and together, they created a Popsicle like no other — with no artificial preservatives, additives or corn syrup, and made of fresh, locally sourced fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices and whole fresh milk products.
Donna says that technically, when she and Martin started the business, she planned to work there for a while, but wanted to eventually phase herself out and leave the shop to Martin. After a couple of years, though, Martin married and left the Sarasota area. Donna stayed in the area and carried on with Pop Craft.
“For me, it was a life changing event,” she said. “At that point, I had already decided to back off and instead I ramped up and took myself back into the kitchen. I feel like women are great entrepreneurs, because they do what they need to do.”
For Donna, it wasn’t a chore to keep making the locally well-known Popsicles, she loved doing it. But in 2014, the building that housed Pop Crafts was taken over by another landlord, who substantially raised the rent. Luckily, she was able to find a convenient new location on Siesta Drive, across the street from the Westfield Southgate Mall just off the Siesta Drive bridge to Siesta Key, and moved in that fall.
The new space was larger, and allowed for more display cases inside as well as cafe table seating inside and out. She also invited a local creamery, Lickity Splits in Bradenton, to sell their homemade ice creams in her shop.
In addition to the eight original flavors Donna and Martin developed together, Donna has now created more than 100 different flavors, and has dozens available to pick up and eat-in or take-out every day. Almost all of her non-dairy flavors are made completely of whole fruits, so the flavors really stand out.
Mexican chocolate, one of the original Pop Craft flavors, remains the most requested, but others like blueberry lemon basil and raspberry rose almonds are close seconds. Donna even makes a vegan chocolate pop and fruit and coconut water Popsicles created in a partnership with CROPjuice, an organic, cold-pressed raw juice bar in Sarasota.
On Tuesdays, Pop Craft has a special, in which you can get four Popsicles of your choice for $10, and there is always a “grab bag” case, which holds opaque bags of six assorted pops for $8 a bag. You don’t know which Popsicles are in your bag until you open it, which adds to the fun.
Donna makes creamy Popsicles, as well as vegan and non-dairy, and says that given the general public’s conscious decision to eat healthier these days, business is better than ever.
“Our original concept was to bring a healthy treat to people, one that you don’t have to feel guilty about,” Donna said. “I offer a lot of fruit options and get inspired by local produce that’s in season. Really, everyone wants something that’s good for them.”