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Adding some zest to an American classic

January 6, 2013 12:10 am

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Jim Ford pours homemade buffalo sauce on a batch of fresh popcorn at the newly opened Popcorn Bag, which offers sweet and savory popcorn flavors. bz0106popcornEN1.jpg

Jim Ford opened The Popcorn Bag with his wife, Helen, following his retirement from the Marines. bz0106popcornEN3.jpg

A batch of fresh popcorn spins at the Fords' Princess Anne Street store.

DILL PICKLE isn't the first flavoring that comes to mind for popcorn.

But at the newly opened The Popcorn Bag, dill pickle seasoning helps to give an addictive, savory snap to kernels of gourmet white cheddar popcorn.

It's just one of a dozen or so flavor combinations at the shop, which occupies 500 square feet of the space that formerly housed Two Sisters Boutique at 1711 Princess Anne St.

Helen Ford, who owns the business with her husband, Jim Ford, ran two successful The Popcorn Bag stores with her sister, Linda Hardwick, in a Houston suburb. When she married recently retired Marine Jim Ford last spring, the newlyweds decided to close the smaller of the two and open one here instead.

"Everyone loves popcorn, and the variety of flavors will bring people in," he said. "I can do sea salt and black pepper, buffalo and buffalo ranch. There's even a beer flavor. We'll add flavors and do promotions to bring people in."

Currently, The Popcorn Bag's offerings include such specialty flavors as Black Tie--caramel corn drizzled with white and dark chocolate, and savory ones that include one of Jim Ford's favorites, spicy queso. The taste of cheese registers first, but is quickly followed by a slight kick of heat.

"I like the spicy ones," he said.

The Fords currently pop regular and kettle corn at their shop and get shipments of caramel corn from the original Houston store. They don't have the space needed to separate and toss the sticky popped kernels until they harden and dry.

Adding various flavorings, drizzles or such things as chunks of Oreos is a simple process that doesn't take much room. To create dill pickle flavored white cheddar popcorn, for example, Jim Ford scooped a gallon of plain, or "naked," popcorn, as he called it, into a commercial tumbler.

Its paddle stirred the kernels as he added melted cheese mixed with corn oil and dill pickle seasoning. When the kernels were coated, he added a dusting of the seasoning blend for additional flavor.

The finished product, which the Houston shop advertises as "absolutely addicting!" on its website, is stored in large plastic containers until customers place their orders. A snack size bag of one of the savory flavors costs $2.35 and a family size is $12.95. Other sizes, including small for $2.95 and junior for $3.95, are available as well. Prices for caramel corn and specialty flavors are slightly higher.

The Fords can also create popcorn favors for weddings and other special events such as New Year's Eve parties, and set up a candy bar so guests can scoop up the sweet and savory treats and munch them at their tables.

Jim Ford said they chose their location, which is on the first floor of The Inn at the Old Silk Mill complex, partly because the rent was more affordable than anything they could find downtown. The inn also gets a lot of wedding and special events business, and the location is visible to people driving by on Princess Anne Street.

"We just have to get them to stop," he said.

The Popcorn Bag isn't the Fords' only venture. They also own The Balloonapalooza, a decor design firm specializing in balloon art. Helen Ford had taken a few classes in creating balloon decorations before she and her husband attended a balloon art convention in Atlanta last August. He got hooked.

"Balloon decor is not just columns and arches," Jim Ford said. "We can do themes. For a birthday party, I built a Darth Vader with a head and huge arms and a body."

Ford, a trumpet player who had run the Marines' music program at the Pentagon, also created a motorized solar system made of balloons and PVC pipe for the University of Mary Philharmonic Orchestra's Masterwork's concert last October. The concert's centerpiece was Gustav Holst's "The Planets."

He teaches music at UMW and regularly plays the trumpet at several area assisted living centers and at Wegmans every other month. Helen Ford, who used to run a massage therapist school in Houston, is the sales manager at the Massage Envy in Dumfries, and helps with the couple's two businesses on her days off.

"We're empty nesters who've remarried," Jim Ford said. "We're starting over, combining everything from our previous lives in one pot and enjoying it."

Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407
Email: cjett@freelancestar.com





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