Owner Jim Watkins pictured with his wife Amy and their four sons. | Courtesy of Steel City Pops
Owner Jim Watkins pictured with his wife Amy and their four sons. | Courtesy of Steel City Pops

Steel City Pops isn’t a one-and-done concept.

Insider Louisville reported in our Monday Business Briefing that the Alabama-based gourmet Popsicle company signed a lease for the former Wild and Woolly Video space at 1021 Bardstown Road and plans to open a store in Lexington.

However, when IL caught up with Steel City Pops owner Jim Watkins, he said the company also is looking for a second location in St. Matthews and plans to open five or six stores total in Louisville.

“We really love Kentucky. We feel like the Louisville area really reminds us a lot of Birmingham,” he said, which makes opening in the city a “natural and easy transition.”

Birmingham and Louisville have similar architecture, food scenes and people, Watkins said.

The Bardstown Road store, its first, will serve as the commissary kitchen for any additional Louisville locations. Watkins estimated it will cost about $500,000 to outfit the store and commissary.

It is expected to open March 1, with a second location also expected to open in 2016.

Watkins and his wife Amy flew to Louisville to check out the Bardstown Road location after finding it online.

“Seeing it in person, I said ‘Yep, that is our store. This is our spot if we can get it,’” Watkins said. “We couldn’t be more excited.”

The couple met with property owner Todd Brashear, who ran Wild and Woolly Video, and ate twice at Jack Fry’s, he said, because they enjoyed it so much.

Watkins started Steel City Pops in 2012 in Homewood, Ala. — the only place they planned to open. Today, he owns six locations in Alabama and five in Texas.

“It’s been great,” he said. “Just the way it has grown has surprised my wife and I.”

Two employees plan to move up from Texas and Alabama to serve as the general managers of the Kentucky stores. Steel City Pops then will look to hire the remaining employees locally.

During the summer, Steel City Pops stores staff 30 to 40 people. The rest of the year, they maintain about 20 employees. Some will work the counter at the store, while others will work events around the city.

Something unique to the company is that is sells bottled water for $2 to raise money for organizations that build clean water wells in India and Africa. Seventy cents of that is used to pay for production costs, while the remaining $1.30 goes to charity.

Similar to ice cream shops, Steel City Pops offers some staples as well as seasonal menu items. The company also plans to reach out to local food producers to create pops using popular regional ingredients.

“We try to be as local as possible wherever we are,” Watkins said.

Steel City Pops already has one savory Popsicle on its menu that’s a perfect fit in Kentucky — a maple bacon with bourbon pop, which is made with Woodford Reserve.

Although Texas and Alabama tend to have warmer climates than Louisville, Watkins said he isn’t nervous about snow or cold weather causing sales to plummet in the winter.

“(People) are not going to let a little snow keep them from eating something sweet.”

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Caitlin Bowling
Louisville native Caitlin Bowling has covered the local restaurant and retail scene since 2014. After graduating from the Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Caitlin got her start at a newspaper in the mountains of North Carolina where she won multiple state awards for her reporting. Since returning to Louisville, she’s written for Business First and Insider Louisville, winning awards for health and business reporting and becoming a go-to source for business news. In addition to restaurants and retail business, Caitlin covers real estate, economic development and tourism. Email Caitlin at [email protected]