Skip to main content

Emerging Entrepreneurs: Poco Pizza – the more unique, the more popular

Local entrepreneur runs frozen pizza business on his familyís dairy farm in Van Dyne

share arrow printer bookmark flag

February 6, 2024

VAN DYNE — Most everyone has heard the words from Novelist Thomas Wolf, “you can’t go home again.”

But in Shawn Pollack’s case, not only can you go home again, but you can deviate a bit from family tradition and create a successful business in doing so.

Finding his path
Pollack was raised on a small dairy farm south of Van Dyne in Fond du Lac County.

Growing up, he said he didn’t embrace much about farm life — admitting at times he was even embarrassed by it.

Pollack said he had more interest in knowing how to cook food than how it was grown.

He attended the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in public relations.

After graduation, Pollack worked for a time in the early 2000s at Fox 11 in Green Bay before moving to Boston where he obtained a master’s degree in media studies at Emerson College.

He worked in the public relations industry in Boston for a bit, but not liking winter, Pollack soon moved to San Diego.

On the West Coast, Pollack worked as a television producer for KPBS for about six years, while simultaneously managing game entertainment for the San Diego Padres.

“It was a cool time in my life,” he said. “I loved television and would have worked there forever if I could have.”

Shawn Pollack

But his West Coast life, Pollack said, was interrupted when he contracted a “freak case of viral meningitis.”

After being hospitalized for a couple of weeks, followed by an extensive recovery, Pollack said he knew he should probably be around family.

Coupled with California’s high cost of living, he made the move back to Wisconsin in 2011.

With his options for television production slim in rural Wisconsin, Pollack said he soon found himself exploring a new chapter in his life — culinary arts.

Culinary school — the ticket to a new life
Having always loved cooking, Pollack enrolled in and graduated from the culinary arts program at Moraine Park Technical College in Fond du Lac.

From there, he said he worked at a few different area restaurants.

But seven years ago this month, Pollack said he began what has since become his life’s passion — Poco Pizza.

The business, he said, was born out of a simple idea.

Pollack said a shed on his family’s dairy farm had a room in it that was attached to a walk-in cooler.

“That space was supposed to be for us to preserve what came from our garden, cut up our own meat and that sort of thing, but we weren’t using it a lot,” he said. “I asked my parents and brother — who own and run the dairy farm — that if I could get that space licensed, would they mind if I sold food off the farm. They wished me luck.”

Pollack said he got the space licensed for frozen food and narrowed down what he would make.

“Pizza was an obvious first choice, but the market seemed saturated to me,” he said. “I noticed all the frozen pizza companies in Wisconsin had the same six kinds of pizzas on their menu.”

These, Pollack said, included cheese; cheese and sausage; sausage and mushroom; pepperoni; sausage & pepperoni; and a deluxe pizza with several toppings.

“Someone might have gotten a little wild and had a BBQ Chicken pizza, but that was about as crazy as it got when it came to frozen pizzas in Wisconsin,” he said. “Where I lived previously, the pizza places were making incredible, inventive things, and I’d just gotten back from Italy where one of its most popular pizza toppings is potato. That sounds crazy to people here. I knew there were many things I could do with this but there was no way to know if there was a market for it.”

Rejection a blessing in disguise
Pollack said he approached a couple of banks in the area with his idea, hoping to get enough money for a nice freezer, but was flatly turned down.

“They wanted me to show them there was a market for this business idea,” he said. “I did my best to illustrate the success of other places, like burger places that were doing many different, innovative things successfully — but they didn’t think it would translate. I couldn’t get any money from anybody.”

Unable to secure funds for a large freezer, Pollack said he started the business with three chest freezers and a belief in himself, his knowledge and his product.

“I looked at everything we were growing on the farm,” he said. “I had seen a lot of these things on pizzas in other parts of the country. So, I knew it could be done.”

Armed with ideas and dedication to get his idea off the ground, Pollack said he still didn’t know how it would work in a frozen pizza world.

“There’s a huge learning curve with making frozen food,” he said. “You’ve got to get a lot of water out of the product if you’re going to freeze it on a pizza. So, I had to learn a new way to cook when I started.”

Hoping there might be a market for his frozen pizzas in the Greater Fond du Lac County region, Pollack said he developed a sample menu of 12-14 different pizzas and made about 500 pizzas total.

He put together a website, and through his own personal Facebook page, told his friends what he was working on and to please share it with their friends.

“I also had an Instagram page for my business I asked my friends to follow and share,” he said. “It was one initial post to friends and family. I told them I could only be open for five hours on Saturday, but if they wanted to order through the website, I’d see them on Saturday.”

Shawn Pollack said he creates two to three new pizza recipes each week. Submitted Photo

Pollack said the idea was to see if there was enough interest to officially start a business.

“I thought I had at least a month, maybe more, worth of product on hand, but everything I’d made sold out in a few hours, and I was profitable my first week,” he said. “Ever since that day, it’s been a scramble to keep up.”

Creativity, authenticity — a winning combination
Pollack said Poco Pizza’s menu has grown quite a bit in the last seven years — offering more than 410 different kinds of pizzas in that span.

Word-of-mouth advertising, he said, has been terrific — noting he’s never advertised anywhere other than social media and Poco Pizza’s website.

“I’ve got more email subscribers than I’ve ever had customers,” he said. “It’s fascinating how (it’s all worked). I was able to use my own voice and tone, and I didn’t over-edit myself or try to sound polished. I’m real and tell the story of how each pizza came about. My descriptions are written in the same way I talk to friends.”

Pollack said he is also honest in that if he doesn’t like how a pizza turned out or how it tastes, he says that in his description, but adds that some people might.

Though recognizing some people might, he said those pizzas still sell.

Pollack said he refers to every customer as a “director of community outreach.”

“It’s incredible how much everyone has shared what I do,” he said.

Pandemic-proof business
Pollack said he didn’t realize it at the time, but he’d created a pandemic-proof business — a perfect business model for what was to come.

Poco Pizza, he said, has an open-air, walk-up window for in-person customers, and he was already offering home delivery when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“The pandemic opened us up to a shocking number of customers,” he said. “We haven’t had a week where we haven’t had folks drive up from Madison or Milwaukee or down from Green Bay — it’s astonishing.”

Pre-pandemic, Pollack said he was handling every aspect of the business himself.

However, during COVID, he said he knew he needed some help.

That help, he said, includes folks who sauce all the pizzas, bag and tag products and handle deliveries on weekends.

Pollack said he also has the person who oversees Moraine Park’s bakery program also helping him out and sells her baked goods in the store.

He said there are several hundred bar options, with one or two given to each pizza customer on Saturdays.

“That’s a cool thing, and the customers like it because there’s not a lot of businesses that give stuff like that away,” he said.

Pollack said customers have become comfortable with ordering and prepaying online.

In the beginning, he said website orders accounted for about 20% of his business — today 80- 85% of sales are pre-ordered online.

Creating new recipes easier than one might think
Pollack said he creates one to two new pizzas each week.

He said people are amazed at how he keeps coming up with new recipes.

“It’s much easier than people realize,” he said. “During peak season, I look at what’s ready in the gardens, and I call the two organic farms I work with and see what they have ready that week.”

If, for example, it’s brussels sprouts, Pollack said he figures out a way to get brussels sprouts on a pizza.

In the last seven years, Shawn Pollack said he has created more than 410 different kinds of pizzas. Submitted Photo

“If it’s sweet potatoes, I figure that out, also,” he said. “As weird as it sounds, it’s one of those things where I let the food tell me what it should be. I don’t spend a lot of time worrying or thinking about it. I try to be creative.”

Pollack said if he goes to a restaurant and has a great sandwich — “it’s a pizza the next week.”

“If I have a fantastic salad at a restaurant, it’s a pizza the next week,” he said. “Same with a good soup I’ll figure out a way to make a pizza like it. That’s how I’ve been operating, and it’s worked very well.”

Pollack said the difficulty in running a business this way is that if someone has a favorite, they may never see it again, or it could be off the menu for a while.

With that in mind, he said he has some staples that are always on the menu — but more often than not, they are one and done, depending on the combination of ingredients available in a given week.

Pollack said that is how he approaches life, too.

“Enjoy it while it’s here,” he said. “That idea of scarcity is, I think, the engine of the business, as well- This is a business where things are often gone in an hour or two. People have trained themselves that if it sounds good, they’d better grab it because it might be the only time they get it.”

Where to go from here
Pollack said the hardest part now is figuring out how and in what direction he’d like to grow Poco Pizza.

“I’ve been putting off making that choice because this works well as it is,” he said. “Whenever you make changes, it bothers some folks. I think a lot of people like that it’s so small right now — that’s half of the appeal.”

Pollack said he admits he has some fear of growth.

“I’m not going to wholesale my product,” he said. “But I also don’t know what this looks like going forward. I’m still trying to figure all that out.”

With the unknown future in mind, Pollack said he has purchased his former church in downtown Van Dyne, and though he’s not sure what it will be in the future either, he believes it will somehow center around food and cooking.

Located at N9017 Van Dyne Road, Van Dyne, Poco Pizza ( is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.

share arrow printer bookmark flag

Trending View All Trending