#MadeInRVA: Grand Pop’s Best popcorn

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A local man has found his cash crop but he doesn’t own a farm. Anchor Morgan Dean goes behind the scenes at Grand Pop’s Best.

“In the dot-com era, I decided I could make a million trading stock and I lost six figures,” James Wendell said.

Wall Street’s loss is the grocery store’s gain. In the wake of a failed trading career, James Wendell invested all his time and money into just one commodity: corn.

“It’s low risk,” Wendell said. “No bacteria grows in popcorn because of low moisture content, so you don’t have to keep it hot or keep it cold.”.

You would often find him cooking up kettle corn, one kettle at a time — at festivals, concerts, and events all over the region. The popping business was hopping.

“People would ask, where can you get it?” Wendell said.

That led this granddad to package his Grand Pop’s Best popcorn for sale at stores.

He started out making it in a big kettle in his garage. But by 2007, the popcorn business was busting at the seams, so he moved into a plant in Chesterfield.

He walked 8News through the process of popping, sorting and bagging his product. He can pop 100 pounds an hour.

The secret to good fresh popcorn is simple, “You’ve got to have a hot kettle and you have to keep it stirred if it’s kettle corn.”

Grand Pop’s Best makes three kinds: Original Kettle Corn, Salted Popcorn, and Smoky Bacon Flavor.

Wendell could offer more flavors but he might lose some of his customers.

“I wanted to have an allergen free plant, Wendell said. “So, there’s no nuts, tree nuts, or dairy in this plant.”

Originally, it was all about the kettle corn. These days, though, the regular popcorn is the top seller.

“In today’s economy,  people are looking for more sugar-free food. Popcorn is a healthy grain, of course, and the way I pop it in rice bran oil, it reduces cholesterol and is high in fiber,” Wendell said.

You can find Grand Pop’s Best at Kroger and Whole Foods in RVA. James and his business partner Lisa are the whole company. They do it all.

You might just see James stocking his product on a store shelf near you.

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