First, he made peanut brittle.
Then it was granola. Then chocolate and nuts and chips and giant mixes of any snack he could find.
Justin Cherman says his wife, Amy, thought he was crazy, but that it all clicked when he found the base on which to build a thriving local snack company: popcorn.
“I got hooked on popcorn a little bit and started playing around with it,” he said. “I found it was a good neutral medium to introduce flavors. I was looking at other brands, different oils we could use, different flavors we could introduce.”
For most of 2018, Cherman spent hours in his Weymouth, MA home kitchen popping corn, mixing flavors and taste testing on his wife and brother Mike, whose idea it was to start a snack company in the first place. He heard no, no, no for almost an entire year, but his experimentation ultimately ended in eight unique flavors the trio used to launch Thank You Popcorn, a Massachusetts brand that has exploded onto the local food scene over the last year.
Thank You’s brightly colored bags are instantly recognizable and stuffed with addictive popcorn in flavors including white matcha, Mexican elote, celebration cake and Korean BBQ.
Amy and Justin Cherman, who run the business, each have years of experience in the restaurant industry and love inventing new flavors such as truffle honey caramel, chocolate and blood orange, and hot chicken and waffles.
“It’s in our DNA as chefs to be seasonally inspired,” Justin Cherman said. “The mainstay staples are popular, but when we offer seasonal flavorings they tend to really drive our sales.”
Though 2020 was a tough year for businesses across the nation, it managed to transform Thank You Popcorn from a kitchen-based hobby into a cult favorite local brand that is growing faster than the Chermans ever thought it would.
At this time last year, the couple had just moved out of their home kitchen and into a commercial space. The move allowed them to launch their own fully stocked online store instead of only selling direct-to-consumer at farmers markets and in local shops. Two months later, the pandemic began.
“We’d already been in the kitchen and started to build our online following, and when COVID hit we started getting these online orders from all over the country,” Justin Cherman said. “We started shipping popcorn all over the place, the farmers markets opened back up and we started working full time. We were just floored by the orders coming in.”
Justin Cherman says Thank You Popcorn became a go-to for those looking to thank essential workers, and companies were ordering bags by the hundreds to send to employees suddenly working remotely.
“The name was really perfect for the time,” he said. “People were just trying to spread gratitude for everybody out on the front lines, and corporations wanted to connect with their at-home employees.”
Those bulk sales got the word out in ways the Chermans never could have imagined, and by the holidays they were shipping popcorn to serve as favors or corporate gifts, to people who wanted to stock their own pantries and as the affordable gift option holiday snacks have always been. But this isn’t your grandma’s Christmas tin of flavored popcorn.
“We pop in organic virgin coconut oil; we use non-GMO corn and kosher salt. That’s the base of everything that we do,” Justin Cherman said. “We have scratch recipes we’ve developed, and everything is made in batches from seven to 24 bags at a time. It’s all handmade and hand measured. It’s a very manual, labor-heavy process. … Robots aren’t making our popcorn.”
Amy Cherman says it’s the artisan ingredients, ever-changing offerings and handmade touch that draws people in.
Justin said, “We try to stay current and innovative. We try to stay fresh and nimble and keep people’s attention.”
Bags of popcorn are $7 each, but featured flavors are sold for $5 each at thankyoupopcorn.store on a rotating basis. It can also be found in local shops including Board 143 in Scituate, Tonia’s Deli in Rockland and Nona’s Homemade in Scituate and Hingham.
Photos in this post were taken by the wonderfully talented Greg Derr. They were originally published in The Patriot Ledger.