Family business brings high-end custard to Weavers Way Co-op


If you met Josh Johnson four years ago, you might not have guessed that the corporate consultant and industrial engineer would someday be cooking pots of gourmet custard, tabling at events and delivering jars to food co-ops and markets. But then COVID-19 happened, taking his aunt.

“She got diagnosed on a Monday and she was dead by Friday. Ladesia was her name, my Auntie Desi,” Johnson says. He had long discussed with his wife, an executive at an education nonprofit, and his sister, a pastry chef in New York, about going into business together. A little later, when his mother passed, he took stock of his life. He had a successful corporate career, but had doubts. “Was I fulfilled? Was I happy? Is that something that I really wanted to do?” he asked. “If there’s a time to put the chips on the table and roll the dice, like now’s about then, right?”

Josh Johnson, founder of Poppa’s Custard Company. Photo courtesy of Poppa’s Custard Company.

Auntie Desi was the family member who cooked for everybody, made her own hot sauces and crocheted blankets for grandnieces and nephews, Johnson says. Her role as a maker inspired the idea for the business. As for the custard, Johnson traces it back to when he was dating his now-wife, and his sister gave him a recipe for a dish that would impress his future in-laws. That dish evolved into Poppa’s Custard Company’s Vanilla Bliss.

It’s like if the pudding cup that you had as a kid grew up and is now a billionaire and it has a tux on it at a dinner party.”

Josh Johnson, Poppa’s Custard Company

“It’s like if the pudding cup that you had as a kid grew up and is now a billionaire and it has a tux on it at a dinner party,” Johnson says. Today, Poppa’s Custard retails for between seven and eight dollars. That might sound like a lot for what may look like a simple, 4.5 ounce jar of pudding, but Johnson compares it to a dessert you might order in a high-end restaurant. “This is the same level of quality that you’re going to get there. And there you’re paying 12, 15 bucks for it, easy, and not even flinching,” he says.

The new company has branched out far beyond its vanilla origins, Johnson says. “Our spring seasonal is a [vegan] hibiscus dragon fruit custard,” crafted by his sister, who develops the recipes. “We don’t want to just put out pink lemonade.” Customers can still get good ol’ vanilla and chocolate, and the team puts extra work into making those common flavors taste exceptional, Johnson says. “Our chocolate is one of the best chocolates that you’ve ever had.”

Josh Johnson cites his Auntie Desi as an inspiration for his custard. Photo courtesy of Poppa’s Custard Company.

Last year, Johnson quit his job to work full time on making Poppa’s Custard a success. The desserts are now available at 20 retail stores, including all Weavers Way Co-op locations.

“We were living in Chestnut Hill when we first thought up the business, so it’s kind of a full-circle moment seeing my products on the shelf at Weavers Way in Chestnut Hill,” Johnson says. “It’s been a really great relationship. It’s been a really awesome beachhead for us to prove that we could serve a multi-store grocery cooperative.”

Wherever they buy it, Johnson wants customers to know that it doesn’t come out of a factory owned by a faceless corporation; it is produced by a small family operation. “It is literally the work of my hands,” he says. “I hope that people taste it and love it. I hope that people buy a bunch of it. And I hope that people recognize that it is a labor of love and a gift from our family.”

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