For Cleveland Caramel Corn Co.’s Pam McClain, a routine visit to Jaworski’s Meats turned into pure kismet.
“I was delivering popcorn, and I saw that the space next door had gone up for rent,” says McClain of the Middleburg Heights location. “The former occupant was the Beer Run Shop, and their space was painted in Cleveland [sports] colors from top to bottom—it had Cleveland written all over it. It was like someone handed me a space and said, ‘This is where you need to be.’”
Not one to take divine intervention for granted, McClain and her family are indeed opening up Cleveland Caramel Corn Co.’s first-ever brick-and-mortar retail shop at 7541 Pearl Road this Saturday, Nov. 16. At 1,200 square feet, the new shop will encompass both a retail component and a production facility, along with a dedicated consultation area for brides and event planners.
It’s an ambitious—but necessary—step for Cleveland Caramel Corn Co., which has been operating out of Cleveland Culinary Launch + Kitchen since May 2018.
“People kept asking us, ‘Do you have a retail store?’” shares McClain. “The orders started to exceed what we could make in a few days a week at the kitchen, and we had no choice but to find our own space.”
Though the business’ rapid growth may seem like a quick trajectory, the proverbial kernels have actually been preparing to pop for more than three decades. The original recipe took shape with McClain’s grandma and aunt, who used to make homemade caramel corn every holiday season while McClain and her siblings were growing up in Brooklyn. According to McClain, her dad became “obsessed” with the taste and started to produce the popcorn year-round.
After many years of refining the family recipe, Cleveland Caramel Corn Co. sold its first official batch to customers in May at the Frostville Farmers Market. Since then, the business has grown to encompass more than 100 sweet and savory flavors, from original caramel to pickle to strawberry shortcake.
“Real butter and limited ingredients, there is nothing else like it,” says McClain. “Our popcorn melts in your mouth and doesn’t stick to your teeth … it’s so good.”
According to McClain, the production process is very labor-intensive and where the proprietary information lies; employees must sign a confidentiality agreement to keep the family’s secret recipes intact. Though McClain and her parents primarily run the business, they also get a lot of help from extended family in making Cleveland Caramel Corn Co. a true family affair.
“It’s a true mom-and-pop business,” says McClain. “We all have a piece of it, and we don’t have titles—we just do what needs to be done.”
And there’s plenty to be done. Along with the new retail shop component, Cleveland Caramel Corn Co. also sells its gourmet popcorn in six other locations (including The Flying Fig and The Flavor of Ohio) and fulfills orders to customers in other states. The business also offers fundraising options to local schools and organizations, as well as custom “popcorn bars” for parties and events. “Every day brings something new,” says McClain. “We love making people smile with popcorn.”
McClain credits the Cleveland Culinary Launch + Kitchen’s Zac Rheinberger for helping her and her family get up to speed on the business aspect—from nutritional panels to legal considerations to shelf stability for products. “We didn’t have any idea what we were doing at first,” admits McClain. “They were instrumental [in furthering our success].”
This Saturday, McClain and her family will celebrate that success at the grand opening of Cleveland Caramel Corn Co. from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Middleburg Heights. Tote bags will be given away to the first 200 attendees, and free samples and giveaways will also be on hand.
From McClain’s point of view, the new location isn’t the only way serendipity is in full force when it comes to Cleveland Caramel Corn Co. “I got laid off from AT&T after 22 years, and my mom retired from her job due to a forced layoff,” says McClain. “Everything was opening and pointing to the idea of not going back to corporate [life]. I'm glad I decided to take a leap of faith."