Are you ready to hear about popcorn in a big way? Ok I’m gonna tell you way too much about popcorn in Chicago. See I love flavored popcorn. And I’m not fancy, I really only like 3 flavors; butter, cheese and caramel. And lucky for me here in the city they’re all pretty easy to come by. Ok let’s go back to January 2011, almost exactly a year ago. I go down to my clinic on 35th and Michigan Ave. and yeah it’s kind of the ghetto, but waddya gonna do? But I got kind of a surprise on that cold January day, I discovered a popcorn place.
It was pretty dark and pretty empty and only one guy working there; the proprietor. And man, did we have some kind of talk. His contention was that the main Chicago popcorn place, Garratt’s, had lost it’s taste quality and as a consequence the bulk of their customers. He felt they only catered to city tourist. And I had to agree that they did have a lot of tourist but they also still did pretty well with their biggest fan base; the black people of Chicago. Don’t get me wrong a lot of people like Garratt’s flavored popcorn, but South Side black people, like myself, are particular fond of a mix of the cheddar cheese and caramel. It’s Goddamn great!
So this guy had this popcorn shop on 35th and was very proud that people from the suburbs were willing to venture to his shop in the hood. He also felt his quality was pretty good and he had s special recipe that not only tasted better, but kept his popcorn fresh for FORTY FIVE DAYS! Well that was a hell of a boast. So I told him to give me about 30 dollars worth and I would judge for myself. However, the guy DID have some amazing bags. And when I got home I had a really good look at them, and I realized. THIS was the guy’s real business. If he marketed the bags to other food business he could have a great business. First of all he could go online and not have to pay for the storefront, the gas, the light, the insurance, the employees and on and on and on. Plus he could market worldwide and not be locked into JUST the neighborhood around 35th and Michigan. So I decided I would really push him when I went to visit him in 45 days.
vs old school Garratt’s bag
Privately, I had a few thoughts. First, Garratt’s was not about to loose any business to a guy with one shop. The shop was in a terrible location in my opinion. That close to the projects and a street that was only just starting to look busy and safe just wasn’t realistic. The neighborhood couldn’t support gourmet popcorn. I mean let’s say you’re living at the poverty level and you decide you’re gonna splurge and buy some junk food. For 5 dollars you can either get a pretty complete dinner at KFC or 6 of 7 ounces of Goddamned popcorn! I mean it’s crazy. Too many residents were not going to use their disposable income on gourmet popcorn.
But guess what? I got there in March and the guy was GONE. “Closed For Business” sign in the window. Haahahahah. Now I’m not taking delight in his sad news, but he was so certain. And I even asked him if it wasn’t his first try at a business, and sure enough had tried before. I could tell he had done popcorn business research, but I also felt he hadn’t done his demographic research. And I was right. Brick and mortar is a tough, tough, tough way to go without being a franchise. Shit, even franchises don’t always make it.
Cut to November of 2011, about a 11 months after the initial visit to Popcorn From Mars (that’s what it was called by the way, he REALLY hadn’t done his demographic work. Now to be fair, I myself am releasing a product this week online and I did zero research to determine if there was a marketplace big and hungry enough and I’m using a product name and logo that is delightful to ME and not what’s customary for the industry. So I understand having faith in yourself and hoping it’ll do well just “because it’s good”). Anyway, around November I’m on a bus on Cottage Grove and 87th and low and behold I see construction for a Garratt’s. And I know, INSTANTLY, it’s going to be a hit.
In fact I can predict and project the next 12 months. They’re going to open JUST in time for Christmas (they did), they’re going to get slammed with customers (they did), its going to go that way until it gets too cold (that’s what happening as we kick into the 3rd week of January). They’re going to do profitable business through Feb. Then it’ll really pick up around March with foot traffic an kids getting out of school. For the summer they’ll coast pretty well and become a “regular” place to go and people around the South Side will find out they don’t have to go downtown. They’ll peak around holidays and they’ll head right back into Nov/Dec making 2012 one of the most profitable for Garratt’s in years. Then they’ll make a few more South Side openings and probably 1 on the North Side, now that the resistance to leaving downtown had been broken.
Until I edit and upload some pictures from the 87th street location, here’s photos of the outside and inside of a downtown Garratt’s.