BY: ALYSSA MAHADEO
There’s nothing more satisfying than a frozen treat on a warm summer’s day, something to cool you down, and also satiate your sweet tooth!
For generations children and adults alike have been enjoying frozen snacks as a way to commemorate warm weather; there’s something about them that brings back nostalgic feelings, happy memories, and the innocence of childhood.
“My dad Leslie Josephs, was a real entrepreneur,” shares Mark Josephs, President at Kisko, and son of Leslie, the founder of Kisko products.
“He was the kind of guy that worked night and day,” Mark describes his father’s vigorous work ethic. “He encountered a lot of challenges and his legacy at the end of the day is truly one of persistence and perseverance, he was a guy that would never quit no matter what.”
Leslie Josephs was the youngest of seven children, and his own father was an entrepreneur himself. Growing up the values of dedication and hard work was something that he was accustomed to seeing how his father had built his own business, it was a drive that he implemented in his own life realizing as the youngest of seven there wasn’t going to be much in the family business that would be left to him.
After marrying his wife Glenor, Leslie moved to Kingston where he decided to start his own business. He founded the idea of selling snow cones, one of the first people to introduce snowcones to Jamaica. Leslie hired drivers to peddle around in small pick-up trucks and sell his brand of snow cones called Joe’s Snowcones. Eventually, the dishonesty of his workers is what caused him to shut down that business. His drivers would rip him off by using his vehicles to sell snow cones with their own branded cups.
While travelling to Panama, Leslie makes a stopover in Columbia. He was riding on one of the old country busses when they stopped at a railway crossing and he spotted a young child selling frozen things in plastic tubes. Seeing this, he had his eureka moment thinking to himself “This is it!” he bought all of the packets from the child, hoping to get in touch with the owners of this creation and find out what it was all about.
After thorough research Leslie went back to Jamaica, and started his own production line with his wife in the house they were renting to make their own brand of ‘freeze pops’ They would manually fill preformed plastic tubes, freeze and have them be sold to children in schools.
When he saw the potential it had he purchased his first automated machine to keep on streamlining what came to be known as Kisko pops.
Leslie built his business from the ground up. Kisko products were initially sold only in schools, but then progressively became available at street vendors, and in supermarkets. The brand became quite successful in the 70’s and they were able to expand their product line to include items like boxed drinks and more tasty flavours to choose from.
In 1975 the Josephs family made the move to Canada. Leslie’s wife Glenor wanted to leave Jamaica with things that were happening politically in the country and the level of violence increasing, she decided it was time to move her family and so on Christmas Eve they emigrated and settled into the GTA.
When they arrived the first thing that Leslie attempted to do was find work. The business was still running in Jamaica, he had brought on a partner to help with managing things in Jamaica, but he needed to find a job here so that he would be able to provide for his family in this new country. As an immigrant, it was difficult for him to find a good position. He was turned down on multiple occasions and told to come back when he had gotten some Canadian experience.
As frustrating as this was for him, Leslie was nothing if not persistent. “His two greatest values would be persistence and integrity and those really describe who my dad truly was.” Mark shares. He found it unreasonable for companies to ask him to come back when he gained some experience if no one hired him, and so he started to brainstorm potential business ideas that he could start up here on Canadian soil.
In trying to stay with what he already knew, Leslie explored his options. There was already another company here in Canada, that held the rights to the Mr. Freeze brand, and so Kisko launched a new product, drink pouches with a straw, and you could freeze it, eat it, drink it or enjoy it any way that you wanted. They established a location in Agincourt, Ontario in 1977.
“Mom and Dad started the business, and we as kids worked in the business during the summer alongside other family members.” Mark shares.
They worked, and they struggled because of the competition and the seasonality of their product, but Leslie was resilient, fighting for his business, borrowing money to keep it running. In 1999 the company that owned the Mr. Freeze brand was bought out by Hershey a company worth billions at the time and their competition increased.
“He should have quit, but he always kept going,” Mark says admiring his father’s legacy.
Eventually, things turned around for the company. Twelve years ago they were able to purchase the Mr. Freeze brand from Hershey, and that allowed Kisko to become the largest freezepop manufacturer in Canada. They were also able to receive licensing rights for SHREK from DreamWorks Inc. This propelled Kisko into mass merchandiser accounts and forged the way for many future license agreements like Crush, Dr. Pepper, Hires Root Beer, Mott’s, Welch’s and much more.
Mr. Leslie Josephs passed away on December 24, 2007, after battling an aggressive form of Leukemia just after Kisko operations moved to their current facility in 2007. The move was a tough one, as they had to completely renovate the building before it could be fit for operations. In January 2008 transition of leadership roles went to Leslie’s sons, Mark, Randy and Peter who continue to run the business today.
Kisko is a proud family run business whose focus for forty years, has always been to produce the best quality freeze pops in the market. It has an ongoing commitment to product quality and providing 100% customer satisfaction as it relates to their products as well as customer service. They are dedicated to serving as well as giving back to the community and in 2005 started supporting “School Builds In Jamaica” in 2005, through The Helping Hands Jamaica Foundation. To commemorate their forty years in Canada, they decided to help build a school in Jamaica, the Lower Buxton Infant School.
Leslie Josephs built his business with family principals in mind. His work ethic was fierce and he made sure to involve his sons in every aspect of running the business so they could continue his legacy long after he was gone. He treated all of his employees like family and was always willing to give anyone a chance knowing the struggle he faced when he first came to Canada.
“He always had faith and trust in God that he would carry us through,” Mark said. “He stressed the importance of family, both him and my mother sacrificed a lot for this business, working 27/7 and also raising a family. His legacy of persistence and integrity has been left to us and we will continue to run the business through his teachings in the years to come.”