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36 flavors of popcorn? It's Great on the Lake

Melissa Topey • Mar 3, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Even in the dead of winter, the sweet smell of popcorn lures in the customers.

It drew me in Thursday afternoon, in fact, as I readied for a stint at Great Lakes Popcorn Co. I greeted a mother and daughter who walked in. “Hi, how are you doing? Would you like to sample some popcorn? We have 36 flavors to try”

The two eventually ordered a medium bag of salted butter, a regular bag of vanilla butternut, and a regular bag of cheddar popcorn.

Bagging popcorn is no simple task.

Great Lakes Popcorn Co. gives customers full pieces of popcorn — no crumbs, and definitely no kernels.    I scooped around the sides of the bucket, supposedly because it’s easier for the smaller pieces to fall away. It’s not easy to dip a scoop into a bucket of popcorn without breaking any; it takes a practiced hand.

That’s where shop manager Loria Hofer comes in. She’s been with the popcorn empire for five years.

Hofer showed me how you use one hand to hold the bag, then place a funnel at the top. With the other hand, you scoop the popcorn into the funnel and into the bag. The funnel keeps the popcorn from spilling onto the floor.

The place has diehard customers.

“We live in Woodville and don’t get here often, so when we do, we make sure to stop in and get several bags,” said Amy Krukemyer, at the store with her daughter. They left happy, their freshly popped tasty treats in hand.

For me, making popcorn was a bit of a stretch. There’s one commercial popcorn popper and three coaters, the equipment that puts the coating on the flavored popcorn.

About four cups of Ohiogrown kernels are measured out and combined with a butter and salt mixture. The kernels are popped using coconut oil. It makes about 10 gallons of candy-coated goodness.

The machine is tall, so I really had to stretch to pour in the kernels.

The product can be sold as salted butter popcorn, or it can head to the coater to become a flavored corn. There are sweet, cheese and spice flavorings.

We made a batch of vanilla butternut, which was colored green for St. Patrick’s Day.

I added in the coloring, sugar, corn syrup and three quarts of water. The machine was tipped at an angle so the blades in the coater would rotate the popcorn in the sugar coating. I used a wooden spatula to keep the popcorn in the machine, ensuring it got a thorough coat.

Hot, sugar-covered popcorn kept tumbling toward me, and employees later swept up the few pieces that fell onto the floor. Those pieces are bagged and used as food for squirrels.

That’s right, even wildlife love Great Lakes Popcorn.

The family-owned local business started 14 years ago. Bill and Kit Yuhasz quit their corporate jobs and moved from Columbus to Port Clinton, where they decided to open a business that would be fun for their grandchildren.

They started Great Lakes Popcorn Co., and their first candy-coated popcorn was vanilla butternut.

To this day, it’s still the best seller, followed close behind by the Columbus mix and the Island mix.

Hofer allowed me to sample some of the different popcorns: piña colada, caramel, cinnamon, banana and more.

My favorite: white cheddar.

Hofer’s favorite: wild walleye, a cajun-flavored popcorn.

No matter what your favorite, if it’s from Great Lakes Popcorn Co., you know it’s tasty.

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