By Jacob Sturm
Artistic expression comes in many different forms, but how many of them can claim to be cold?
Although it has been a relatively mild summer to this point, there are not many things that can surpass the vibes of ice cream bars or popsicles to stave off the heat.
That’s where food trucks and ice cream stores can meet their mark, make a name for themselves and benefit from the added draw to the product from the community.
Ben Pendleton, the owner of ice cream bar and popsicle mobile operation Wondervan Pops, is taking the next step for his business: getting a property to invest in the increasingly attractive product.
Wondervan Pops, which is building a large 6,000 square-foot facility at 408 S Symes Lane in Mustang, is flourishing while keeping Pendleton busy around the clock. The building is the culmination of a two-year process that included a consistent delay.
Pendleton indicated the business is 2-3 months away from moving in and being able to use the facility.
“It’s not meant to be a retail spot for people to come in, it’s actually just our manufacturing kitchen,” Pendleton said. “We are a mobile operation. We always have been since Day 1. We operate out of our 1967 Ford Econoline vans. We have a couple of those. We also have our Wonderwagon, which is a trailer… It’s nice, small and kind of goes along with the style that we’ve created with our vans.”
Pendleton said the hope is for branching out and doing smaller brick and mortar type locations. He said one possible location for those locations, if they commit to that route down the road, would be Mustang.
The facility being built in Mustang currently will be the main hub for the operation so that there will not be any additional kitchens required for the product to be delivered to different areas of the Metro.
“We know that this building is so necessary for us to continue to grow and expand because we want to have more of a footing in this area, be more present and help people be more aware of our product and what we offer,” Pendleton said.
Mustang serves as the hometown for Pendleton, who lives mere minutes away from the new building rapidly coming. That convenience was a large part of the decision to find a location within the city.
Pendleton has worked the businesses into a popular alternative to the artificial treats with the handmade pops and handcrafted ice cream bars unlike what people can get anywhere else.
The whole concept, according to Pendleton, came from his brothers. One of them, his twin brother (Matt), runs a coffee cart out in Denver called “On the Road Coffee” out of a VW Bug.
That small of an operation (requiring grinding coffee beans per order), along with the fact of the product being something widely popular, inspired Pendleton to try his luck with Wondervan Pops.
“I’m not mechanically inclined that much myself, but I do enjoy work with some old vehicles,” Pendleton said. “And that just gave me an excuse to buy some cool old vans and incorporate those into the idea of Wondervan.”
Pendleton said he and his family spent a lot of time in the kitchen growing up, eventually becoming a bartender in a restaurant himself. He also has been an artist in the past, a form of work two of his brothers took on for income, while he chose expressing his artistic side through his creative treats.
“This was totally meant to be an occasional, ‘maybe I’ll do this a couple times a month and it’ll be some extra income’, and it just kind of slowly started,” Pendleton said. “I was doing one or two things a week, and then it started (to be) three or four things a week… And then, whenever the pandemic hit and things shut down, I was already doing decent enough to be like ‘well ok, I guess this is what I’m going to do now.’”
That ended up being the best year for the business, and helped enable his wife (Ashley) to work full time with the business, too.
Wondervan Pops was there for the Firefighter’s Freedom Celebration in Wild Horse Park, and has frequented church events around town. The business does a lot of work in Oklahoma City, and even stretches into Edmond for events.
“I think at least one element of our success is that our pops can match and exceed our nostalgic memories of the popsicles we enjoyed as kids,” Pendleton said. “A real let down tends to happen a lot when we get the chance to reexperience something we enjoyed at a younger age.
The colors aren’t as bright, the flavor just isn’t there and nothing is as big as it used to be. I think our pops give people that little bit of excitement they felt so long ago because when you bite into one of our pops and get punched in the mouth with this mountain of flavor, it truly takes you back. And to experience that as an adult with friends, with family, a child of your
own, those are some of the new memories that will last, and that’s a pretty special thing to be a part of. We see it happen every single day. After a group steps away from our vans with their pops in hand and one by one as they open the popsicle bag and take their first bites and smile
at each other with approval…that’s that memory magic happening. That’s 100% the best part of the job.”
By the second year in operation, the new building became an obvious next step.
So, where is the progress at for the facility? According to Mustang’s June 2023 City Managers Report, the facility already has the permits issued, along with the footing being poured and the plumbing ground work having already been inspected.
Melissa Helsel, the community development director for the City of Mustang, also confirmed the information, and said they business applied for permits on Feb. 16.
The area is not expected to have any street frontage. Helsel also said the structural steel is being erected on the property.
The builder for the property is Platinum Homes, who also is working on the new Mustang Chamber of Commerce building by Mustang City Hall.
“We’re super excited to really be a part of the community, the business community and the community at large,” Pendleton said. “I think a really important thing for any local business and business in general is to not just rely on the community to support them, but for the business to help support the community as well.”