Mmm Popcorn

It was a series of fortunate events. In the summer of 2013, Dave McFarland got laid off from his grant-funded research position affiliated with University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. That door closed and a window of opportunity opened. During his "sabbatical," he toyed with the idea of opening food business. He recalled his co-workers always enjoyed grabbing bags of gourmet popcorn on their lunch breaks in Oakland. He noted that his wife and daughter are popcorn fanatics. He reflected and concluded: People love popcorn. So he looked into what it would take to start a popcorn business and found it was definitely doable, with the help of a cashed-in 401k to sink into equipment.

Although he took another full-time research job to pay the bills, in March 2014 he made the initial investment and began a cottage food enterprise with wife Betsy and daughter Emma. It was Emma who unwittingly came up with the business name. Waiting beside the microwave while her corn popped (pre-business), she looked at her parents dreamily and said: "Mmm...popcorn!" (Microwave popcorn has since been banned from the McFarland household.) For the next several months, the family made and bagged popcorn every Friday night and set up a table at the local farmers' market each Saturday morning. They gained a small but loyal customer base there, as well as at a few local festivals where they popped on location.

That winter, Dave started looking actively for a location to open a shop. Location, location, location, right? But nothing was quite right. Some customers were still placing popcorn orders, but without a physical location, it was slow-going. Plus, he was still working full time in Pittsburgh, commuting from Martins Ferry. So when he had a chance to enter a local entrepreneur pitch contest (think "Shark Tank") in March 2015, he was ready. He pitched the business at the same competition the previous fall, but did not win the $2,500 prize, which is sponsored by the West Liberty University Center for Entrepreneurship, West Liberty Foundation and Project RED (Regional Economic Development). This time, he brought his family with him … and samples. Based on votes from the audience and judges, Mmm...Popcorn clinched the prize! Even better, the next morning, a RED representative called up Betsy and said, "I have a location for you."

It was an 1867 building on Wheeling's Market Plaza, an area of downtown Wheeling that was once a bustling retail hub. It looked promising. The plaza was undergoing a facelift, and the building's landlord was willing to work with Dave and Betsy to make the space - formerly an office, a karate studio, a women's clothing store and a saloon -- work for them. Best of all, the outside was yellow and red, popcorn colors! They opened June 1, and an article in the local newspaper that same day drove in more customers than they ever imagined. Since then, word has spread through traditional and social media, as well as word of mouth.

Mmm...Popcorn is located on the newly renovated Market Plaza in downtown Wheeling, W.Va., within walking distance of unique local restaurants, the Capitol Theatre, the Children's Musuem of the Ohio Valley, Wheeling Artisan Center, McLure Hotel, WesBanco Arena and the Greater Wheeling Convention and Visitors' Bureau.

Mmm...Popcorn is thrilled to be part of the growing scene of restaurants, watering holes and housing in the Market Plaza area of downtown Wheeling, W.Va.!

Dave at Mmm Popcorn
Mmm Popcorn
Mmm Popcorn
Mmm Popcorn in Wheeling wv