Pop City Gourmet Popcorn brings Windy City flavors to the mountains
An idea popped into Joe LasCola’s mind a few months ago.
The Chicago transplant had brainstormed ideas of starting a company that would bring some Windy City flavor to Park City, and came up with Pop City Gourmet Popcorn.
“I thought back to my childhood and popcorn was a common theme,” LasCola said. “I remember going to Chicago Cubs games, going to carnivals and movies and having Chicago-mix popcorn with my father.”
Chicago Mix, which is one of Pop City’s more popular offerings, is a blend of cheddar and caramel popcorn.
“You have that mix of sweet and savory, and, while it may sound like a super weird combination, it is extremely popular in Chicago,” he said. “Of course, we offer plain cheddar and caramel popcorn as well.”
The last flavor, so far, is “butterish,” which is a vegan-friendly butter offering, LasCola said.
“Everyone thinks I spell the word butter wrong, but that’s not the case here,” he said with a laugh.
Pop City officially opened in March and started serving small events and local weddings with a mobile popping cart.
“The genuine joy the popcorn brought people, both kids and adults, was great,” LasCola said. “I love the interactions it gave me with the community, and it kept snowballing and expanding. So we continued to do it.”
Pop City caught the attention of Volker Ritzinger, founder and organizer of the Park City Farmer’s Market, who booked LasCola for the market’s summer run.
LasCola participated in the Heber Farmer’s Market as well.
Landing the Park City Farmer’s Market seemed natural to LasCola, because his popcorn is GMO -ree, he said.
LasCola, who originally wanted to be a registered dietician, said the reason his popcorn is organic is because he wanted to make a treat everyone could enjoy.
“I worked for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in Cleveland, Ohio, for a decade, and I learned many people have dietary restrictions, which is such a bummer,” he said. “So when I was deciding what kinds of popcorn kernels I wanted to pop and what kind of products I wanted to offer, I knew I wanted to offer a vegan option and a gluten-free option.”
Preparing those options that still tasted good was LasCola’s biggest challenge, and he tried a variety of kernels, seasonings and ingredients.
LasCola eventually discovered a organic mushroom popcorn that provides a larger and fluffier pop.
“That allows you to coat it with seasonings without any breaking,” he said. “That way you don’t get a lot of crumbles, and that was important to me, because I want to make sure our bag of popcorn is, from top to bottom, not full of crumbs.”
The process of making the popcorn, which is made to order, is a “Zenlike” artisanal method, according to LasCola.
He either pops the kernels at home or in a commissary in Kamas.
“We start with a little kettle and then add different oils and seasoning so the kernels have that buttery flavor,” LasCola said. “After we pop, we throw the corn in our caramel maker and coat it with a mix of caramel and sugar.”
Once the coating is even, LasCola airs out the mix before packaging.
“Everyone says they want to eat the hot, fresh caramel, but in reality when it’s first coated, everything comes out in a big ball,” he said.
The cheese popcorn is made in a similar way. After the kernels pop, LasCola throws them into an eight-gallon tumbler and drizzles on the cheese as it tumbles.
“We spend a lot of time on the popcorn because we want to take it to the next level and offer a gourmet product to make sure we give people more bang for the buck,” he said.
Pop City serves the popcorn in a variety of sizes, from one quart to six-and-a-half-gallon barrels, LasCola said.
LasCola and his wife, Kelly O’Keefe, a local realtor, are currently experimenting with new flavors and colors for the upcoming holiday season.
“This will also take some time, because I’m a stickler for the product,” LasCola said. “I want to make sure that what we come up with is something I really want to provide to the community.”
LasCola’s long-term goal is to open a brick-and-mortar Pop City Gourmet Popcorn shop.
“I don’t want to open anything too crazy, but I would like it to be a place where people can visit and have fun,” he said. “I want it to focus on more than just the popcorn. I want to offer a fun environment for customers and employees who can feel passionate about what they are doing.”
In the meanwhile, snack lovers will find Pop City Gourmet Popcorn at different weekend events and corporate parties.
“I love interactions,” LasCola said. “I love seeing the smile on kids faces when they see our popcorn. And that takes me back to my own childhood memories of ballparks, theaters and carnivals with family.”
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