think chocolate

For Valene Marshall, the mantra has become a business venture — twice

September 24, 2005

In the corner of Craig and Donene Funk’s garage, somewhat close to a new Mustang, a small, white chest freezer sits on the cement floor.

It’s no taller than a 4-year-old, no wider than a Sumo wrestler.

But it’s big enough and cool enough to incubate the collective ideas and goals of a family who believes they just might be onto something.

That something is a slice of chocolate mousse pie, dipped in more chocolate and frozen with a stick protruding from its wide end.

It is sealed in a gold wrapper and stamped with a sticker that says “Pie Pop.”

You might have seen it around lately.

Since May, the Pie Pop has crept into the dessert list of local stores. It first appeared as 12 individual bars – on consignment – in a freezer in Mosier’s Route 30 Ice Cream shop.

Two weeks later, the ice cream shop called the Funks, requested a full case of 24, paying in advance this time.

Rosauers bought a case. So did Wine Sellers and Hood River Cinemas.

Now after four months on the local market, the Funks say they are selling 75 to 100 of these a week. They’ve noticed they sell more when they offer samples of it at First Friday, which they’ve done on each of the last two months.

“We see a dent (in stock) immediately after a First Friday,” said Craig Funk, the family member in charge of marketing the product. “Rosauers is selling out afterwards.”

The dessert itself is like a traditional ice cream bar. Perhaps a little thicker, richer.

And kind of like a slice of chocolate mousse.

But less committing.

Craig Funk’s mother, Valene Marshall created it six or seven years ago when she was still running MaMere Desserts.

At the time, her company – which consisted of her – provided six desserts to three upscale restaurants in Portland, such as Alfy’s and Noho’s.

She had a carrot cake, a cheesecake and a strawberry mousse.

But the one most people requested was the Raspberry Chocolate Grande Marnier.

“This is what’s left of the Grande Marnier,” Marshall says, pointing to the Pie Pop. “Except without the raspberry.”

In the spring of 1999, two years after initiating MaMere Desserts, Marshall began distributing the Pie Pop at Sherwood and Tigard community events. She sealed deals with two grocery stores – Wizers and Thriftway Palisades.

The restaurants at this point were consuming between 150 to 200 Pie Pops a week.

And Marshall was making the Pie Pops, packaging and distributing them, all in an effort to satisfy the growing appetities of her customers.

“I was working all the time,” she says. “I couldn’t afford an employee.”

Marshall retired the Pie Pop in 2001 and took a job managing Sleighbells restaurant in Sherwood.

She worked there for a season, then found an interior decoating job with a furniture store in Tigard.

When the furniture shop closed, Craig Funk asked his mother about the retired Pie Pop.

“I felt this dessert was too good, too unique to be let go,” Funk says. “There was nothing and is nothing like it on the market. So we have a hurdle to get over. But we also felt like it was that unique that we wanted it to continue.”

Of course Funk’s perception of the Pie Pop was the polar opposite of what it meant to his mother.

To Funk, the Pie Pop was a reward at the end of a hard day of work, something to look forward to.

To Marshall, his mother, the Pie Pop was cooking and cleaning, wrapping and packaging, selling and satisfying.

So, the family made a deal. They’d all go in on it together. Marshall would continue making them. Funk, the Portland Fire Bureau Captain, would market them. His wife, Donene, the Mosier School District board member and stay-at-home mom, would distribute them and sample them at First Friday.

“We have a vision,” Funk says. “And the vision is that it needs to be very tight.”

Marshall cooks, freezes and dips each bar in her Sherwood kitchen, then transports them to the chest freezer in the Funk’s garage, the distribution center.

So far, the business recipe has pleased its cooks.

“For being only three months old, we’re doing really well,” Craig Funk says. “Slow growth is what we want. We’re doing well enough to cover production and marketing and a modest labor cost.”

Within a few years, however, Marshall and the Funks are hoping to consolidate the entire operation somewhere in the Gorge.

All the while, they’ll be creating new flavors, such as Sublime Key Lime, which tastes as much like the actual fruit as one can expect.

They are also working on other flavors, such as Chocolate Raspberry.

Right now, you can purchase a Pie Pop for $2.49 and only in the Gorge.

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