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A love for popcorn has turned into a delicious career for couple Mike and Venessa Dobson, who own and operate Pop Art Snacks, a company they started just a couple of years ago with the idea that popcorn was a neutral canvas ready to be experimented with.
The couple’s experimentation with popcorn flavors began several years ago in New York City, when they lived in a very eclectic Brooklyn neighborhood.
“We were living next door to the most diverse zip code in the country,” Venessa said. “Our access to different seasonings and ingredients was pretty unlimited and popcorn is just such a neutral canvas to play with. You can do so many fun things with it. We started reimagining the all-American snack and adding fun, out-of-the-box flavors.”
In 2010, the couple married and decided they wanted a change from the fast-paced New York City lifestyle. That’s when they decided to move to Utah, a place where they could have more space, both physically and mentally.
“When we moved out here we had a clean slate, and we were trying to figure out what we wanted to do,” Mike said. “We had a friend encourage us to sell something at [a local] farmer’s market, so with two weeks to spare, we decided to give our popcorn a shot. We got our business license, permits and ingredients, and in July 2011, we did our first farmer’s market.”
After Pop Art was born, the company grew quickly. At first, the couple was making the popcorn in their home kitchen—often blowing fuses while trying to run four air popper machines simultaneously—but after being approached by grocery stores, they moved into a commercial kitchen in Salt Lake City and have added a third employee.
“We look back at those days in the kitchen with blown fuses and hand processing everything and now we can laugh at it,” Mike said.
Pop Art is now sold in several stores across the Western United States, including Whole Foods, Harmon’s, Associated Food Stores and several independent specialty stores, like Caputo’s and The Market in Park City.
The flavors the Dobsons have created range from sweet to savory, and include unique combinations like Thai coconut curry, rosemary truffle and tandoori yogurt. The couple still sells popcorn at the Downtown Farmer’s Market and Park Silly Farmer’s Market each year, which gives them an opportunity to try out new flavors and get feedback from customers. This year they’ll try browned butter with sage, maple with smoked sea salt and pumpkin spice.
Now in its third year, Pop Art continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Venessa said so far this year, the company has already grown by 150 percent from 2013.
“We’re only in May, so these are exciting numbers,” she said. “We’re growing really fast, and we think it’s because popcorn is a tasty, healthy snack. It has also been labeled by Time magazine as the snack of the year, so a lot of stores are making more room on their shelves for more popcorn lines. The specialty salty snack section is growing by 20 percent from last year to this year.”
In the next few years, the Dobsons hope to expand their popcorn across the nation. They have a few new grocery chains coming on board this year that have stores on the East Coast, Venessa said.
“By the end of this year, we will be pretty concentrated in the West and will start our distribution in the East and by this time next year, we’d like to be a national company,” she said.
In addition to popcorn, the Dobsons also have a passion for helping those around them. Together they’ve started a charity campaign called “We Pop When You Pop.” Through this campaign, they are asking customers for feedback on the charities they feel are doing amazing and necessary work in the world. Each year, from customer suggestions, they will select both a local charity and a national charity to donate money to. They’ll choose this year’s charities in the fall.
For more information on Pop Art, visit www.popartsnacks.com.