Americans love their popcorn. According to industry group The Popcorn Board, we annually devour more popcorn than any country in the world, consuming more than 13 billion quarts — or about 42 quarts per person.
If you’re eating it that much, it only makes sense to add a little spice to your snack-time routine. Popcorn seasonings have been around for a while, but three local business have taken ordinary popcorn to a whole new level with their mouth-watering cornucopia of gourmet flavors and toppings.
Aurora Popcorn Shop
After purchasing East Aurora’s historic Aurora Theater in 2010, Paul and Lynn Kinsella wanted to find a unique way to add some flavor to the lobby. Since nothing goes better with a movie than popcorn, it was only natural they opened the Aurora Popcorn Shop in September of 2015. With the staffing and machinery already in place, it was a natural fit.
“We took note of the numerous seasonings people were using on our popcorn, but we felt they just didn’t give the full flavor our customers wanted,” Lynn explained.
Aurora Popcorn reaped the immediate benefits of having a storefront location. Visitors can stop in to sample flavors at the tasting bar, including apple pie, garlic parmesan rosemary and a decadent candy cane popcorn that became a holiday hit.
In addition to the retail location, they cater to special events and weddings. Lynn even created a pina colada popcorn for a bride who wanted flavor and color to coordinate with the bridesmaid dresses.
“It was definitely the most unique project I’ve taken on. It’s really just a matter of experimenting and making the most of the taste-testing process.”
That Popcorn Shack
Scott Hirsch put his entrepreneurial spirit to work after returning home from his army deployment in 2010. Hirsch researched numerous business opportunities before landing on gourmet popcorn. After purchasing some machinery to get started, Hirsch opened That Popcorn Shack in 2013.
He’s since been operating out of a warehouse space on Hinman Drive in Buffalo, creating a diverse menu of flavor offerings.
“We’ve really become known for our dill pickle and salt and vinegar. But our selections also include local flavors like a chicken BBQ that tastes like Chiavetta’s, along with Buffalo Caramel and a spicy cheddar popcorn that includes Frank’s Red Hot powder.”
Instead of opening a retail location, Hirsch has taken the pop-up sales route with 25 hospitals and businesses ranging from Niagara Falls to Bradford, Pa.
“It’s become great advertising for our product because we are taking the product to people who normally wouldn’t hear about us,” said Hirsch.
Not only has this savvy approach resulted in new clientele and opportunities, their product is now being shipped all over the U.S. by satisfied customers.
There’s a true family business making a name for itself in Lockport. By day, Todd Chenez is a detective lieutenant with the Lockport Police Department. At home, he’s all about the popcorn business that launched almost by accident in August 2016.
“It was a hobby that started on the stovetop with us [wife, Karla] and the kids [Joe, 19; Lilly, 16]. Once we started sharing it with our friends, they loved it. Next thing you know people are asking me to make more. It was getting hard to keep up. That’s when we decided to start a business.”
With popular flavors like Buffalo Cheddar, salt and vinegar and the newly created chocolate-covered cherry, Chenez’s has seen a rapid growth in business over the last 18 months. Already sold online and at Johnson’s Country Store in Lockport, their popcorn is now available at six Christmas Tree Shops locations in Amherst, Syracuse and Albany.
“It’s become such a family-oriented thing for us. It’s about working together with the kids, teaching them about values, business and money. It’s not just about the popcorn.”