One of the purposes of Authentically CLE is to highlight some of the amazing folks behind the local businesses we love. Pope’s Kitchen is one of those businesses that not only creates amazing products, but also has a true Authentically CLE story behind it.
I can remember the day I went to my friend Clark’s house for his 40th birthday party and he told me he was quitting his teaching job to take his food production business to the next level.
A lot of years later (number redacted to protect all our ages), Clark has a wildly successful and delicious line of cocktail syrups, sauces, and other fantastic products, as well as a cocktail book that just came out!
I’ve always been inspired not only by Clark’s willingness to follow his dream, but also by his generosity to other businesses and non-profits while doing so. I “sat down” (emailed) with Clark about his business…
What gave you the idea to start Pope’s Kitchen?
The company started as an off-shoot of my catering business, in the summer of 2010 Trevor from Fresh Fork Market came to a cancer benefit at my home, he enjoyed my bbq sauce so much he challenged me to make it from Ohio grown tomatoes and ordered several hundred jars to be ready by Labor Day. I was so naïve, I just started making the sauce. I used a 22-quart roasting pan and each batch of sauce could take up to take eight hours from knife prep to water bath. It was a long summer, and I returned to teaching that fall with a few new ideas.
Tell me about how your business first started and how it’s grown since then.
After the BBQ sauce for Fresh Fork, Trevor presented me with regular opportunities to create value added products with the surplus from the local farms, this gave us such classics as a pickled red onion relish and using left over strawberries from the church strawberry social a lovely roasted strawberry balsamic sauce for desserts and salad dressings. This unique relationship leads to the development and FDA registration of 22 products over four years, and eventually to my leaving teaching to focus on creating a natural food business.
So Pope’s Kitchen LLC is now just over five years old, and while I still provide catering services, and create a selection of hot sauces and bbq sauce it has been the development of a line of 14 cocktail products that are currently driving the company forward.
In the fall of 2013, I was asked to create a Bloody Mary mix for thanksgiving, after six full weeks of research and development what is today an award winning mix was born.
Both the Pope’s Bold & Spicy and the Traditional mixes have won awards including Cleveland Magazine’s best of in 2014 which really launched the brand forward, and in 2019 Pope’s received Gold and Silver awards from the Drunken Tomato Bloody Mary competition.
2019, also was the year for my first bartending competitions, I am pleased to say that I received 2 1st place and 2ed place finishes in the four competitions I entered. The highlight would be the Flaming River competition celebrating 50 years since the burning of the Cuyahoga river in 1969. I won with a tequila cocktail, made with pomegranate juice and Pope’s orange habanero cocktail syrup.
Partnering with Heidelberg distribution, Pope’s is now available at grocery stores, restaurants and specialty shop throughout Ohio.
You partner with a lot of other local businesses. Tell me some of your favorites to work with and why local partnership is so important.
I believe it is important to not only stick to my roots but to support the local businesses in my community, all of my tomatoes are still grown along the Ohio and Indiana border, I work with local companies to produce my labels and boxes for packing and shipping. As a rule of the company if I can source something from and Ohio company I do so. My first customer was Fresh Fork Market, and they are still buying Bloody Mary for their members to this day. My first restaurant was Market on Linda Street in Rocky River: the traditional Bloody Mary blend was created specifically for his restaurant. I continue to work with the Cleveland Bazaar at the holidays and from their pop up shop at Legacy Village: The Merchant’s Mrkt. Merchant’s Mrkt is now four years old a retail home for nearly 30 local businesses.
How do you give back to the community, either personally or professionally?
When you use your own name on your business there is little separation from what the business believes in and what the founder believes in. As a former teacher I understand the value of education and how it impacts our community. I also understand that our students cannot learn when they are hungry. As such I work to support many different organizations that benefit these goals. Specifically it has been my pleasure for the past few years to organize the VIP bar for the Cleveland Food Bank, and to provide specialty cocktails in partnership with Tito’s Handmade Vodka at events throughout the state. For nearly twenty years, I have provided the catering and bar services for International Partners in Mission’s annual event at food cost, assisting them in their mission of peace and education not only in Ohio but throughout the world.
What are your personal favorite products you create?
The creation of products is my favorite part of the business, time in the library reading about ingredients, processes and product to then enter the kitchen and create something that brings joy to another person is a magical feeling.
Of my current products I must say the Pope’s CLE BBQ with bourbon is a current favorite and the first hot sauce, Pope’s Burning River will always be in by fridge.
To help you enjoy some of Clark’s products, I have a discount code to share that’s worth 10% off the Bloody Mary or Cocktail Sample pack from Pope’s Kitchen. Just type in AuthenticallyCLE at checkout to save.
I hope you’ll consider supporting this great local business, especially now that you know more about the authentic person behind the tasty creations!