Kilimanjaro has special significance for Roger Horowitz and Brian Sykora. They hiked the mountain when they were raising money for an African nonprofit. But Kilimanjaro is also the name of the club that used to occupy what is now their Pleasant Pops Farmhouse.
The almost-two-year-old Florida Avenue location was born of a January 2009 conversation between Horowitz and Sykora in which the entrepreneurial friends identified a gap in the DC food scene: paletas, frozen pops made of the freshest produce and dairy, common in Mexico.
After a year and half of brainstorming a name—Pleasant Pops is a nod to the Mount Pleasant neighborhood and, of course, the incredibly pleasant product—and testing flavors using kitchen space in Dos Gringos and a Chinese takeout place, their first pop was ready in July 2010. They followed by selling their pops, made of locally sourced fruits and Mexican-style ingredients, like coconut and avocado, at several local farmers markets.
By 2011, they had seven carts making their way around DC’s markets and special events, as well as a truck. The truck, Horowitz notes, ended up being a stressful undertaking: “People are expecting you to be somewhere specific, but you can’t always find parking, so you end up having to go somewhere else, and customers are disappointed.” Now its appearances are limited to special events, like weddings, fairs and synagogue and church festivals.
After years of searching for a storefront, Horowitz and Sykora found their current light-filled location, which had been a car dealership, Rita’s Italian Ice and Kilimanjaro Club in past lives, in January 2012. Nine months later, the Pleasant Pops Farmhouse was born, with the design expertise of Horowitz’s sister-in-law’s mother, an architect and designer in Chicago, and the support of 426 people who donated not only money, but also the reclaimed barn wood now in the interior through a Kickstarter campaign. The benches are made of wood purchased by the owners from the Coney Island boardwalk.
These days, Pleasant Pops is home to a staff of about ten in addition to the two owners, a menu of salads, soups, sandwiches, a variety of coffee drinks and, of course, a rotating list of seasonally inspired pops. The kitchen has about 150 flavors in total on its roster, with the most popular being strawberry ginger lemonade and the most underrated, according to Horowitz, Thai coconut curry: “It’s a bit spicy.” All the pops are made on-location in batches of 1,500 with molds imported from Mexico, a process that taught Horowitz and Sykora more than they ever cared to know about import and export laws. Surprisingly, bagging the pops is the most time-consuming step of the process.
In addition to the full menu of in-house-produced treats, Pleasant Pops also has a small “marketplace” area showcasing other local provisions like Soupergirl’s soups and salads, Capital Kombucha’s drinks, gluten-free baked goods by Goldilocks Goodies and pickles by Gordy’s Pickle Jar, to name just a few.
Pleasant Pops is totally vegetarian, a fact that is slightly underplayed. It comes from Horowitz’s Jewish background—“I just couldn’t think of mixing milk and meat”—but also turned out to make licensing significantly easier. There’s a lot less to worry about when there is no raw meat or seafood around.
While not strictly kosher, the fact that Pleasant Pops is vegetarian has made it a viable option for some people who keep kosher. On a recent afternoon, I saw two tiny kippah-clad boys run in for an after-school treat, very proud that they were ordering and paying on their own (though they did have to run out to their mom for an extra dollar—whoops).
I’m hesitant to share that the big glass windows and wide selection of drinks and snacks, both sweet and savory, make this one of my favorite spots for camping out and getting work done because, well, Wi-Fi and outlets within reach of good snacks are hard to find in this city beyond my own apartment. But the spirit of Pleasant Pops is one of sharing, so there you go.
Now don’t even think about asking me for a bite of my guac (sweet avocado and lime) pop.
Pleasant Pops, 202-558-5224, 1781 Florida Avenue NW, Washington, DC; Monday, 7:30 am-7 pm, Tuesday–Friday, 7:30 am-9 pm, Saturday–Sunday 8:30 am–9 pm
Top photo courtesy of Pleasant Pops