"I can see that Wisco Pop is going where I need it to, and that is very exciting."
Photos by Megan Monday
Austin and Hallie | Viroqua, WI
Hallie: We were teenagers when we first met. I was 15, and I took my very first airplane ride to Colorado to visit a friend. She introduced me to this new friend she had made, Austin.
First first time I saw him, I remember thinking Austin was very fancy. He was in a rock-a-billy type of phase, so his hair was tall and slicked back. Nice button-down shirt, nice shoes.
Austin: She was covered in paint, wearing pink scrubs. I was curious about her. There was a really calm feeling that I experienced when I met Hallie. Just kind of like a nice wave, like, "I like you, tell me more." We stayed up that night until 5:00 in the morning talking. We would just chat about family, what it's like to have kids, "Oh I would love kids..."
Hallie: After my Colorado visit, we stayed in touch for two years by ICQ chat, remember that?
Austin: I had that Polaroid of you above my bunk bed for probably about two years.
Hallie: And I had the photo of you for two years on the mirror in my room.
Austin: Oh, you did? Really? I didn't know that. I didn't know that. Wow.
Fast-forward two years, I'm a senior in high school and Austin ends up needing a place to live. I asked my parents and they were like, 'Sure.' So he moved in with my family. He'd never even been to Wisconsin.
Austin: Her family really, really intrigued me. Everybody was a little bit more intellectual than my family, and I was always really drawn to that. I really got in a lot of trouble in high school so I didn't get much of an education there, and was looking to self-educate afterwards. I spoke with Hallie's dad on the phone at one point, and we're just talking philosophy, books, stuff like that.
Hallie: My parents were definitely a little eccentric. There are seven kids all together. My parents moved around a lot and there were some hard times, but my mom always brought us together with a good meal. She was big into cooking, and all of us kids came around to help. And now all of us are into food businesses in some way. We were just always experimenting and it ended up being something that we are now doing for work, too.
Austin: I also had a pretty DIY family. My grandfather grew mangoes in the backyard, figs, avocado, okra. We always had fish fries. My mom stayed home, cooked and it always had to be from scratch. There was no boxed food allowed. So when Hallie and I got together we both were on that wavelength.
Hallie: Eventually we moved to Madison and got pregnant with our first son six months later. I was nineteen. There's an almost-religion in my family: Butter and Babies. Bread is just a vehicle for butter, and everybody loves babies. A lot of our life revolves around those two things. So you can imagine, the birth of our son was a very anticipated event. Both my parents were there, the wine was flowing...
Austin: We stayed in Madison, kind of at a slower pace with our son, and tried to start a bunch of businesses. Fermented foods was one. Sauerkraut, kimchi. We were making a lot of kombucha. But those projects didn't really fly, we were kinda ahead of the curve.
Hallie: My brother was starting Kickapoo Coffee, and he asked us to move out to Viroqua with him. We did that for a while.
Austin: Meanwhile, we're still always experimenting. I had all this beer equipment laying around and just kept staring at the bottles. I'd be down in the basement cleaning stuff, like, "I need a product to put in a bottle…"
Austin: Before we started Wisco Pop, I went to an interview for a job as a production manager.
I was talking to the lady interviewing me and she was like, "You don't sound like a manager. You sound like an entrepreneur." I was actually really upset. I was like, "Come on, I need this job."
I'd already journaled extensively about Wisco Pop...had been writing down ingredients, recipes. What she said kept rolling through my mind. I was like, "Ahhh, why do I have to hear this now? I really don't want to do it." Because I know what it takes to start a business. We'd done it with Kickapoo Coffee, which was really, really hard the first year.
But she said that to me and I pretty much went home and started filling out paperwork. Within a couple weeks I'm listening to Damien Jurado, submitting an LLC. Put a request with the state of Wisconsin in January of 2012 and I launched in July of 2012.
Austin: I can see that Wisco Pop is going where I need it to, and that is very exciting. And I've gained a lot of friends from doing this project. I've been like, "Hey, you've done grant writing, what do you think of this?" Or, "Hey, you've got a food product, this is a problem I'm having." I also had a really nice mentor in the beginning who even let me use his kitchen.
I used to be held back because I thought I had to do everything myself. When I realized I could ask other people questions or for help...it was finally doable. Then you just have this big gratitude. Maybe it's just people in Wisconsin, I don't know.
Hallie: We launched a Kickstarter and we had three hundred backers...anywhere from 20 bucks to two thousand. And they don't want anything in return! You're like, "Oh God, they believe in us that much?"
Austin: Yeah. Last year we grew, like, four hundred percent. That's pretty good. It's been super rewarding just meeting people and I have a lot of gratitude towards people who had helped us along the way.
-Austin and Hallie | Wisco Pop | Viroqua, WI