It was several years ago when Hyppo founder and St. Augustine native Stephen DiMare first approached Publix about including his handmade ice pops to the frozen section of the grocery giant.
The company basically said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Unruffled, DiMare went back to focusing on the brand’s growing number of retail shops across Florida, including the downtown St. Augustine location at 48 Charlotte St. that started it all. The popsicle venture actually owes its namesake to that store’s placement at the corner of Hypolita Street.
Last October, Publix came calling, this time courting DiMare to add his expanding line of pops to their shelves. Hyppo Gourmet Ice Pops will now be carried at more than 400 Publix stores throughout the southeast. That’s in addition to their placement at hundreds of other regional stores like Diane’s Natural Market.
Made solely of fresh fruit, fresh herbs and spices, evaporated cane juice, and sometimes diary, Hyppo pops are also known for their exotic flavor combinations, including Watermelon Hibiscus, Blackberry Goat Cheese and Reisling Pear. The company keeps the recipes for nearly 650 varieties in what DiMare simply calls “The Book.”
“We let the fruits show themselves and we get out of the way,” DiMare said.
A dream in the making
There is a childish picture DiMare drew as a 4- or 5-year old showing himself pushing a cart of pops.
“Apparently, I wanted to do this at some point,” DiMare said with a laugh in a recent interview at his store off State Road 312.
With no knowledge of how to make popsicles and just $7,000 of his own savings, DiMare set out to do just that.
Starting an entrepreneurial venture at the height of the economic downtown might not sound like the best business model but for DiMare the timing actually worked to his benefit. When he opened his first store in St. Augustine’s historic district in 2010, DiMare said people who couldn’t afford big-ticket luxury items were looking for less expensive ways to treat themselves.
“And we ended up being one of those little things,” DiMare said.
In the early days, the then-24-year-old and a loyal group of friends and family managed to help DiMare produce about 180 pops or more a day out of his 650-square-foot shop.
“They’d be chopping up pineapple, juicing limes right alongside me,” he said.
Some nights, he’d sleep on the floor or a bench in the store just to catch up on the work.
But the plan worked: the Hyppo was cash flow positive within a month.
These days, the operation is much bigger. Being able to delegate jobs to a growing team of staffers — there are now 150 full- and part-time employees — has allowed DiMare to focus as CEO on cultivating business relationships as well as larger marketing efforts.
In January, the company opened a factory in a business park off S.R. 312, where employees are able to churn out 30,000 to 40,000 units a week, as well as package and distribute them.
But even in scaling the business, DiMare said he has always remained true to the cottage industry image Hyppo is known for.
“We still hand make and hand pour each of our pops,” he said.
While still building the brand, Hyppo’s growth was at its steepest trajectory, with revenue some years 75 percent higher over the previous year. These days, it’s about 25 percent. But with the landmark deal with Publix and more expansion down the road, those margins could be much higher in the future.
DiMare has also ventured off into a couple of side business here in town: MayDay Ice Cream and Cousteau’s Waffle and Milkshake Bar. He wants, he said, to focus on doing just a few things really well.
When asked his favorite flavor ice pop, DiMare hesitated. It’s a question he gets asked often.
“It’s like choosing a favorite kid,” he said, then conceded if he had to name one it would probably be the Pineapple Cilantro.
“It’s quirky, it’s fresh, and that’s what we are.”
This content was originally published here.