SALEM — Walking into Popped! at Salem’s Pickering Wharf is a bit like walking into the Ben & Jerry’s of popcorn factories.
The smell of sweet caramel and freshly popped corn meets your nostrils before you walk through the front door, and when you do, what your eyes take in lives up to what your nose has already told you — this is going to be good.
Colorful paint and a neat row of samplings of each unique flavor of popcorn greet you. Opposite the counter is a wall covered in jelly bean dispensers. If your sweet tooth still isn’t satisfied, the shop offers old fashioned sodas and bottled root beer sourced locally from the Ipswich Ale Brewery and ice cream from Richardson’s Ice Cream in Middleton.
But it’s the simple snack that steals the show, said Matthew Mattera, a Swampscott native who opened the gourmet store with his brother Justin about a year ago.
A specialty chef pops about 100 pounds of popcorn each week inside the store, where curious customers can watch the magic happen through large glass panes. In one week, the treat is flavored about 40 different ways that fall under sweet, spicy, and cheesy categories.
While sea salted caramel remains the most popular flavor, customers aren’t afraid to order selections like birthday cake, which has a vanilla buttercream flavor and is tossed with sprinkles; The Elvis, a mix of peanut butter, banana, and chocolate; dill pickle; loaded baked potato; French toast; and nachos with bacon.
Customers can make requests for flavors, and the shop has been asked to make some wacky creations, including a bacon and eggs flavor, a margarita popcorn, and a wasabi and ginger mix, which Mattera said was a big hit.
“People come in before a big snowstorm to get a couple of bags and watch movies with their kids,” said Michelle Sharkey, who greets customers at the door. “And they come in before Patriots games.”
Most football fans come in looking for a spicy, savory treat. Before big games, loaded baked potato, buffalo cheddar, and pizza flavors fly off the shelves, she said.
They’ve created custom colors and packaging for baby showers, and provided several gallons for self-serve popcorn bars at weddings.
“It’s a traditional snack food,” said Sharkey. “Who doesn’t love popcorn? Every day, working here is fun, surrounded by all of this. It’s my favorite snack.”
Popcorn was once considered a breakfast food, enjoyed in a bowl with milk or cream, according to Popcorn.org. It first became popular around major holidays — Halloween, Thanksgiving, Easter, and especially Christmas when it was threaded and used as a decoration.
Popcorn balls became popular gifts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, according to the website, and it was one of few treats to survive the great depression, when street vendors continued to draw crowds because of the treat’s modest price.
When sugar was rationed during World War II and candy became limited, popcorn consumption in the United States tripled.
It has remained a staple in movie theatres since the 1920s.
At Revere’s Showcase Cinema, more than 70,000 pounds of popcorn were sold in 2016. At Showcase Cinemas chain-wide, more than 3 million pounds were sold, according to spokeswoman Amy Russ. It was the top-selling item of the year, followed by bottled water at 2.2 million bottles sold.
In celebration of today, National Popcorn Day, Popped! Is offering a buy one get one free deal all day. Every other day, the store offers a buy three get one free discount.