Gelato bar chain seeks Santa Fe franchisee

Popbar, a gelato-on-a-stick chain with eateries in six states, is looking for a franchisee in Santa Fe. Courtesy photo

Gelato on a stick.

It’s becoming a thing.

New York City-based Popbar is making it so.

Popbar now has 22 small stores in six states with another five in Canada, Singapore and Portugal. A Popbar is coming to Atlanta in September and New Orleans around November.

“Santa Fe is definitely a target market,” said Reuben BenJehuda, Popbar’s founder and CEO.

Popbar is looking for a franchisee in Santa Fe. All Popbars are franchise-operated except the first store BenJehuda started in New York City’s Greenwich Village in 2010.

Forget the preconceptions about New York City-based. For Popbar, headquarters is a coworking space with five people in midtown Manhattan.

That reflects what BenJehuda wants to create with Popbar stores.

“I wanted to create something different with a mom and pop feel in 1,000 square feet or less,” he said about the company’s origins. “One of the ideas was Popsicle. We can create a gourmet version. We can put gelato on a stick.”

Popbar franchises produce all the gelato bars in-house with natural ingredients, including “lots of fruit,” to create more than 50 flavors. There also are more than a dozen topping to customize the bar. Popbar also makes sorbet and yogurt on a stick, and is experimenting with waffles on a stick as well as gelato shakes and hot chocolate, BenJehuda said.

Popbar expanded to California, Texas, Arizona, Florida and North Carolina in the past five years. The scattershot locations are based on where BenJehuda finds compatible franchisees.

“Many businesses start in New York and go to New Jersey first,” he said. “Forget it. We need to be everywhere.”

Reasonable real estate prices — compared to New York and Los Angeles — and a foodie atmosphere, attracted BenJehuda to New Mexico in his “little selective” search for a franchisee.

“We’re one of the food franchises that don’t need a food background,” said BenJehuda, who grew up in Milan, Italy, and came to America at 18 for college. “You don’t need a master chef in the kitchen. We teach you everything. Management skills are more important than food background.”

With only 22 U.S. locations so far, BenJehuda knows what he’s looking for in a franchisee prospect.

“One thing we look for is what kind of questions do they ask instead of us asking questions,” he said. “Are they listening to what we say? They have to be assertive. It’s both asking and listening.”

He said a franchisee needs $250,000 to invest in a store.

A franchising application is on the Popbar website:

Even with growth, BenJehuda doesn’t want to lose sight of his original vision.

“We want to have a little charm, keep it unique, keep the mom and pop feel,” he said.