The Popcorn Fanatic

by Terry Watson | February 10th, 2011
Young boy at Popcorn Fanatic

A satisfied customer at Popcorn Fanatic

In 2002, Derrick, Sharon, Staphon and Sherri Debnam, recognized an increasingly unstable pattern forming in the economy and decided to take their financial situations into their own hands. Fearing possible layoffs, the familiar foursome decided to market and sell kettle corn at various festivals during the summer for extra money. The part-time work soon began to yield full-time money as well as a serious demand and loyal following. It’s no wonder, the Debnams decided to pursue the full-time prospects of a gourmet popcorn shop.

The Popcorn Fanatic specializes in over 100 unique flavors of popcorn ranging from delicious banana pudding and buffalo wing flavors to wacky watermelon and wild blueberry delights. Their belief in quality is why the company spends hours developing and perfecting every delicious flavor. The best ingredients are selected and used and the popcorn is popped all day long to insure the freshest product possible. Real butter, the best sugar and even made from scratch caramel is used on several flavors. The Debnams’ admit they just love popcorn, creating new flavors and watching their customer’s reactions to what they taste.
“If we taste something we like, we try and figure out how to duplicate it on popcorn,” says Stephon Debnam. The flavors are too numerous to name but Fanatic owners see no reason to slow down; in fact they regularly seek flavor ideas from supportive customers. The flavor lab is always mixing, concocting and developing new palate pleasing flavors to wow the taste buds of Popcorn Fanatic‘s…well fanatics.

It is the gourmet shop’s consistent customers that the Debnams credit with the companies great success, proliferation and even demand for full-time investment. Every time the owners tried to slow down and pursue other business ventures they were bombarded by customers seeking more of the gourmet popcorn. When the two husband and wife teams desired to focus on real estate they found that customers would contact them at home and even send messages through their children requesting not only more popcorn, but as the Debnams soon came to realize, their customers really sought more consistency and availability from their favorite gourmet shop.

“After a while people began to track us down to do special flavors of popcorn,” says Sharon Debnam, wife of co-owner Derick Debnam. “They would say, ’you need to have a store.’”

Opening a store is exactly what Fanatic did. On November 20, 2010, The Popcorn Fanatic held its grand opening with rave reviews. The company was able to secure a prime location on Silas Creek Parkway in Winston-Salem, located in the Toys R Us shopping center.

However, The Popcorn Fanatic brand is not limited to the physical store. The company is still very much active and involved in various outdoor festivals, sporting events, school activities and fundraisers. As a matter-of-fact, the company boasts a great return for fundraising efforts, paying up to 50% of all sales. Customers can also stay in contact with Popcorn Fanatic and get the latest news about new flavors, daily discounts and super specials simply by following the savvy company on Facebook or Twitter. Still, Fanatic maintains the business model will always begin and end with the customer and providing superior, old fashioned and personal customer service.

“Customer service is very important; no customers, no business. We have to take care of them and treat them special because they are special to us,” say the co-owners. “They allow us to do what we love and get immediate gratification by showing us that they approve of our ideas and creations.”

The Debnams are committed to not only becoming more visual throughout the community, but they are looking toward expansion, perhaps franchising. The company will be introducing special sodas, cake truffles and pralines this year. The gourmet shop also specializes in homemade flavored fudge, chocolate covered candies and potato chips, pretzels, and gourmet candy apples, all of which make great gift ideas. From Super Bowl party ideas to a gift for that special someone on Valentine’s Day to a Christmas treat, The Popcorn Fanatic has something for everyone. The company even has great shipping options.

Although The Popcorn Fanatic is definitely experiencing the fruits of its labor, the company’s road to success has been paved through challenges and trials. “Going through the necessary channels to start the business has definitely been a challenge,” says the Debnams. “Working with contractors and learning the ropes with city officials and inspectors has also been difficult.” Much credit is given to Barbara Debnam, mother of Staphon and Derick Debnam, for being the backbone of their business. Her advice has helped the Debnam’s stay focused and organized.

However, the company continues to be inspired by God, family and their customers to keep moving forward. They advise aspiring business owners, no matter the type of business, to do the necessary research to understand your product and market and most importantly love what you do and consequently the grind won’t hurt as much.

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