Austin Ashley hails from South Texas. He’s lived in Colorado and Madison and moved to the Viroqua area in 2006 to assist with the start-up of Kickapoo Coffee. He learned important lessons there about starting a business but, he says, perhaps a more important lesson was one he had many years earlier when he saw the Cramps, a psychobilly band, in Austin, Texas. “When I saw the Cramps, I realized crazy people can make money and have a life.”
In South Texas, Austin’s family had a strong interest in food. “My family had avocado, fig trees,” he reports. He spent some years working in the restaurant industry but also playing music in various musical projects.
Wisco Pop started out a few years ago as a farmers’ market project. Austin would brew up small batches of soda and sell the drink at markets. “I figured I could make at least $10 an hour.” And the farmers’ market shoppers were good for market testing and honing his recipes.
With help from Sue Noble, Vernon County Economic Development Association Director, Wisco Pop secured start-up funding, and along with a boost from a Kickstarter campaign, the company set up shop in the Vernon County business incubator in March 2013.
Wisco Pop is an organic soda. “When we started, we wanted to source organic honey, but the ethics behind beekeeping is not there yet. To get beekeepers to give up corn syrup and [non-therapeutic] antibiotics, we’d have to change the whole beekeeping industry. But I’m not going to be able to change the whole landscape of honey production. So we started using sugar. It’s certified organic cane sugar from Paraguay. We used organic lemons, limes, strawberries. We use local farmers where we can, Ridgeland Harvest, Sno Pac for our strawberries.”
Recently, Wisco Pop has added a seltzer line called Sparkle. These are lightly carbonated, unsweetened sodas, flavored with fresh lime, lemon, ginger. “People kept asking for sugar-free, less sweet drinks,” Austin says. “It’s the same principles as Wisco Pop: fresh fruit, natural food.”
The ginger and lime Sparkle sodas are Wisco Pop’s newest offerings. “We’re working on doing more with local farmers, doing seasonal things. We’re growing. It’s only the four of us working here: Neil, Hallie, Zac, and [Austin]. Next step is to continue having fun.”
Having been influenced for so long by his interest in music, did that interest change his approach to running a business? “You’re trying to make a good band, trying to blend it all together, but you can’t control the whole thing.” Lux Interior from the Cramps would have related.
|Austin Ashley of Wisco Pop.|