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Specialty popcorn becoming big business for Ottawa man and his sister

Midweek Mugging: Ottawa’s YOW Popcorn Co. has become a big hit for weddings, events and even the average popcorn lover.
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Roughly two years into the gourmet popcorn game, business is literally popping for Michael Sinclair and his sister and business partner Fiona Weir Gotlieb.

Sinclair and Weir Gotleib started YOW Popcorn in spring 2017 after borrowing recipes and tips from a similar Florida business, where Weir-Gotleib resides.

They then decided to make a go of it north of the border.

Sinclair first launched a small operation out of his kitchen while still working in the car business, where he spent over two decades, but he and his wife decided it was time for him to make a change.

“Everything was just going along, we were getting some accounts doing it out of the kitchen, I was still working at the car dealership, pretty busy, kind of actually stressing myself out,” Sinclair said in an interview with OttawaMatters.com.

“Finally it came down to my health; my body was telling me I had to do something and it wasn’t staying in the car business.”

Sinclair went full-swing after quitting his job in fall 2017 and has put his nose to the grindstone to grow the business since then, leading to growth in terms of accounts, varieties of flavours and even finding a full-time workspace in Nepean, on Bentley Avenue.

The business has found a niche market in terms of events, from weddings to festivals. It's also being sold in pubs, breweries, hotels, and simply to anyone who just likes popcorn.

“There’s popcorn in every store, but our concept is different than getting into every store -- our shelf life is like three weeks, so everything is fresh,” Sinclair said.

Business really started to pick up steam, or 'pop' if you will, last summer with the addition of Tavern on the Hill Ottawa as a client. YOW is also part of a charity network and sees popcorn being shipped across the province and country.

Being able to add a businesses’ or festival's logo to bags is also an attractive feature, according to Sinclair, or personalized messages for those handing out bags at their weddings or other events.  

When it comes to offerings, it’s not the typical popcorn you’d find at a movie theatre, as it’s not just sprinkled seasoning on top, the whole mushroom-style kernel and popcorn itself is coated.

The menu currently holds 14 flavours from sea salt and vinegar, to sriracha lime and even dill pickle, with up to 30 options that aren’t always on the menu.

By far the most popular has been the truffle parmesan, which Sinclair said is great with wine, while the dill pickle seems to be a fine fit with beer. 

Other flavours Sinclair has developed have been a popular Canadian maple, maple barbecue bacon and at Christmas, bourbon chocolate cherry.

“For us we’re growing and now were growing with more flavours,” he said, adding it’s fun to “play around” with the different combinations.

In terms of taking a risk and quitting a stable job with over 20 years of experience, how was Sinclair so sure popcorn was going to be a success?

“Because the popcorn is really good,” he said. “It’s really the product. Like yesterday, I had a guy in here who said he hates popcorn but his wife loves it. So we gave him a whole bunch of different flavours and he said ‘this is really good.’”

He said it’s similar to the growth of the craft beer industry over the last few years, where there is lots of experimenting and hitting different tastes for different people.

Sinclair is at expansion in the long-term when it becomes possible, but noted one of the challenges is trying to go to the next level while maintaining freshness.

“It’s growing it right…I want to be in stores but I need high volume and turnover, I don’t want it to get stale. We want it to be delicious,” Sinclair said.

Those interested in ordering their own gourmet popcorn or setting up a so-called "popcorn bar" for an event can make an appointment with Sinclair, or find more information on their website.




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