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Mom and pop shop: Local finds a hit with Craft Corn popcorn

From a kernel of an idea, Carmel Valley’s Lauren McMullen’s small batch gourmet popcorn business has been poppin’ for just over a year. Craft Corn’s “gargantuan-sized” gourmet kernals come in uniquely SoCal flavors such as watermelon pineapple tajin, churro, Buffalo ranch and the sweet and savory combo of caramel cheddar.

The popcorn is sold out of a beach stand on Cedros Avenue on Saturdays and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. The rest of the week, Craft Corn is popping to meet orders from corporate clients and a growing list of fans who opt to pop by or online for gifts for birthdays, holidays or no occasion at all.

“It’s just fun,” McMullen said of the popcorn biz.

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Craft Corn's caramel and cheddar, watermelon tajin and churro flavors. Karen Billing

Pre-kids, the entrepreneurial mother of three had a career in advertising and TV production. “I always loved the creative process and the fun of the idea was really right up my alley,” said McMullen of crafting flavors and the logo. She is also a self-described foodie who loves to cook.

McMullen’s husband Tom, senior vice president at Carmel Valley’s UBS Financial’s Highlands Wealth Management, helps with the business side of Craft Corn—a native of Buffalo, New York, he also had a final say on the specific spiciness of the Buffalo ranch flavor.

The McMullen’s three children attended Skyline Elementary, Earl Warren, Pacific Trails Middle School and Canyon Crest Academy: Sophie is a junior at Cal Berkeley, Jonas a freshman at the University of Michigan and the youngest, Drew, is a freshman at Canyon Crest Academy. All of the kids help out when they can—Drew is getting the most experience as he is still at home.

The McMullens have always lived a healthy California lifestyle—“avocado toast before it was cool, outdoor cooking with fresh local ingredients.” Lauren McMullen always used popcorn as a go-to snack for her kids, a better choice than chips. She said while she wouldn’t characterize Craft Corn as a health food, she points out it does have healthy components—there are eight grams of fiber in every cup.

The idea for Craft Corn was born after a trip to Toronto a few years ago. Lauren McMullen and Sophie had just one day in Toronto and decided to do a food tour of the city, finding themselves at the “darling and super fun” Toronto Popcorn Company. McMullen stocked up on edible gifts that matched each of her family’s individual’s personality and tastes. It was such an easy gift that when she got back to San Diego, she looked for something similar but didn’t find anything local.

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Lauren and Tom McMullen. Ryan Booth

McMullen set off to create her own fun popcorn brand with a SD flair, working with a chef to develop the flavors. The popcorns made their debut at a popcorn bar at her son’s 13th birthday party in October 2017 with everyone weighing in on their favorites.

McMullen said that their core four flavors really represent them but in the future there could be additional flavors—her husband has been lobbying for salt and vinegar. McMullen said they won’t add any new flavors unless it “feels like us” and can be done well.

Every San Diego flavor mixes well together, McMullen’s favorite is the unexpected combo of pineapple tajin with the Buffalo Ranch. They have also discovered that the sugary cinnamon churro flavor pairs great with coffee and the caramel and cheddar with a bourbon and soda.

“I thought (Craft Corn) would slowly evolve but everything has happened so fast, the momentum has been a whirlwind,” McMullen said.

By December 2017 they had opened up their beach stand, sharing the location next to Leaping Lotus with Grit and Grace garden design shop on Cedros and Alabaster Floral.

After they opened it was like “gangbusters.” “It felt so comfortable being in our little stomping grounds and the vibe was perfect,” McMullen said.

They landed their first corporate client, Dana Point Riviera Beach Resort, and have sold at Cedros Design District’s West Elm, pop-ups at Anthropologie in Westfield UTC, the Lodge at Torrey Pines and are now on the poolside menu and in the retail shop at Loews Coronado Bay Resort.

“The momentum always starts with someone who loves the popcorn,” McMullen said, adding that chit-chats and nibbles at the Solana Beach location have landed them corporate clients such as Ace Parking and displays at Nordstrom.

“Nordstrom was huge,” McMullen said. “The energy in the store… we really felt like we were a part of the action there.”

Their popcorn has been featured at the local tree lighting, Del Mar Plaza events and holiday boutiques—recently a Trojan League Associates of San Diego County saw USC Trojan colors in the watermelon tajin and ordered up bags for an alumni event at the La Jolla Country Club.

McMullen has loved making connections with all kinds of different people and helping people celebrate a variety of events and occasions.

“Everything is such a good fit for us,” said McMullen, noting popcorn like fun, goes with anything.

Find Craft Corn on Saturdays at 240 South Cedros Avenue. Place an order at eatcraftcorn.com.

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