My son insisted he could smell the popcorn by the time we hit the former Kaufman’s storefront. He held fast to his dad’s hand as he skipped down the alley and into Market Plaza. We were heading out to our first visit to one of Wheeling’s newest businesses, Mmm. . . Popcorn.
We are no strangers to their delicious treats, though. In fact, we were regulars at their Ohio Valley Farmer’s Market stand this past summer. My 4-year-old is a popcorn connoisseur and would eat it for every meal if I let him.
We walked into the store to find owner, Dave McFarland, frantically re-stocking his inventory. On the second day of business, he found himself in any entrepreneur’s best-worst dilemma: out of product. Before noon on a gray and chilly Tuesday, his customers had wiped out his entire store. By the time we got there, he had already made new batches of white and regular cheddar, and he was starting on a batch of caramel.
As he worked, he chatted with me about how a scientific researcher wound up opening a popcorn shop in Wheeling.
In June 2013, McFarland explained as he added a batch of freshly popped corn to the mixer, he found himself out of work. The grant that had funded his salary was gone, and he began to search for employment. He compared the struggle post-layoff to that of the well-known five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. As he moved through each stage, he realized that maybe going to work for himself was a better option than working in an industry that was based on the fickle nature of soft money from grants, especially in our current economy.
That’s when he and his wife, Betsy, decided to experiment with making their own gourmet popcorn. Inspired by the fun environment of Pittsburgh Popcorn, a gourmet shop in locations all over the Steel City, the McFarlands developed their own recipes and started selling their treats, including peppermint bark flavor, at local venues, like the Ohio Valley Farmer’s Market.
Soon, it was obvious that they had a great business idea on their hands, and Dave set about finding a way to make and sell popcorn full time. As he researched options in the area, including suppliers and locations, he also sought community support. He realized this past April when Mmm . . . Popcorn won the West Liberty Entrepreneur’s Contest for $2,500 that he was on the right path. Not long after, he was setting up shop in Market Plaza.
A floor-length mirror lists the flavors, including the regulars: cheddar, vanilla, white, caramel, and Chicago, and this week’s specials: Jalapeno Cheddar and Mocha Caramel. It also includes the prices that range from $2.50 for a small to $9.00 for a large. Drinks are coming soon, along with Custom Corn, which will offer customers the means for making up their own delicious combinations, like rosemary and olive oil.
Until then, McFarland will be serving up his regular flavors along with a variety of ever-growing combinations that now number close to 30. As a vegan on a healthy diet, I am looking forward to sampling one of Betsy’s creations, Healthy Pop, which combines organic coconut oil and nutritional yeast.
My son and husband left munching on a bag of white cheddar, and it was obvious by the smiles on their faces that Dave McFarland’s mission of “making people happy” was accomplished. I know we will be back and not just for the popcorn. Dave is a personable guy who treats his customers like old friends and enjoys his work. You can find him at 1057 Market St. Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. mixing up sweet and savory treats. Mmm . . . Popcorn will be out and about, too, at the Wheeling Arts Festival, the Blues Festival, and Fall Fest at Grand Vue Park. Follow on Mmm . . . Popcorn’s Facebook page to learn more about upcoming flavors and offers.
photos by the author.