Popcorn addicts, beware. Big Poppa Corn has just the thing to satisfy your craving.

Started by Portland resident Mark Rice, Big Poppa Corn features gourmet popcorn in multiple flavors designed to give one’s taste buds the ride of their life.

“Big Poppa Corn is a business I came up with last year,” Rice said. “I started researching the popcorn business when I was traveling up to Chicago for work. I started eating popcorn in Chicago — Garrett popcorn, Nuts on Clark, caramel corn, cheese corn — and I fell in love.”

Rice began researching the popcorn business, including visits to a gourmet shop in Nashville owned by friends. He decided to take the plunge, and Big Poppa Corn was born.

“From there, I got into kettle corn, and a friend of mine at church actually came up with the name ‘Big Poppa Corn,’ ” he said.

Big Poppa Corn has been operating at the Portland Farmers’ Market each Thursday from 3:30 p.m. until 7 p.m. and also at multiple community events in and around the Portland area.

“We have absolutely grown from there as I’ve pursued it,” Rice said. “We do farmers’ markets, we do events, we do online orders.”

Big Poppa Corn features gourmet caramel flavors in Original Caramel Crunch, Vanilla Cinnamon Drizzle, Chocolate Caramel Drizzle and Strawberries ‘n Crème. Four classic flavors are also available: Original Kettlecorn, Movie Theater, Jalapeno Cheddar and White Cheddar. The gourmet flavors come in small bags for $5 or large bags for $8, while the classic flavors are $7 per bag.

“I know what strawberries mean to the city of Portland, and that one’s really taken off,” Rice said. “We’ll be introducing more flavors as the summer goes on. I’m working on an Orange Dreamsicle and Key Lime Pie.”

Rice added that his Gourmet Caramel is probably his niche and is his own homemade recipe.

“I’ve seen a lot of popcorn companies that call themselves gourmet, but they’re buying a prefabricated kit,” Rice said. “My caramel corn is true gourmet — my own recipe — and it’s taken off like a rocket ship.”

In fact, Big Poppa Corn has grown so much in a year’s time that Rice has left his previous job in sales to pursue the popcorn business full-time.

Orders can be placed online by visiting Rice’s Facebook page at @BigPoppaCorn or by visiting www.bigpoppacorn.com. The website currently links to the Facebook page, but Rice said that it will eventually offer online ordering options.

Giving back to the community is also important to Rice and something he hopes to be able to use Big Poppa Corn to accomplish.

“One of the reasons I started this business was to be able to help support our community,” Rice said. “Just last week, we did a payback with Portland Pay It Forward, which feeds people, makes sure they have essential items, stuff like that.”

Rice announced that he would donate a portion of a week’s sales to the non-profit organization. That payback allowed Rice to donate $150 to Portland Pay It Forward.

“We got a great response from that,” Rice said. “I like to think of Big Poppa Corn as a community-based business, so I want to partner with non-profits. We’re going to do one for Hands of Hope as well.

“I want this business to make a positive impact on the community. Whatever I can do to give back, that’s what we want to do. You can’t go wrong by giving and helping.”

Rice hopes to inspire young people to become entrepreneurs themselves, citing his 16-year-old nephew as an example. Rice feels that encouraging future small businessmen is important.

Big Poppa Corn is in the process of opening a full-time shop, which will be located at 101B South Russell Street, next to Southern Barber and Hands of Hope Food Pantry.

Rice is working on getting approval from the Department of Agriculture to be able to wholesale his product and hopes to have the shop open in a matter of weeks. Hours will likely be from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. from Tuesday through Saturday.

Rice takes such pride in the quality of his popcorn that it comes with a warning label stating, “This popcorn may be addictive.”

Big Poppa Corn gets its popcorn in 50-pound bags from a supplier in Nashville, but Rice said that his long-term goal is to find a local supplier and be a Pick Tennessee product.

“It’s important to put out the best product we can,” Rice said. “I want people to feel like they’re getting a great value for their dollar.”

Reach Chris Gregory at 615-374-3556 or cgregory@hartsvillevidette.com.

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