Sandy’s Popper (5503 6th Avenue) is your go to place for sweet treats. We sit down and get the scoop with owners Dave and Sandy Hawes in this exclusive q&a.
Q. What did you do prior to opening Sandy’s Popper?
A. David had retired from a local corporation (30 years) and a local non-profit (8-1/2 years), with business systems and administration experience. Sandy was a stay-at-home mom, part-time employee and home-maker (22 years), with customer service and small business experience.
Q. How long has Sandy’s Popper been open?
A. Our initial startup began with Sandy’s Popper Express, our popcorn wagons (one red, one orange), at the opening of the 2006 Kenosha Harbor Market season.
Sandy’s Popper, as a home-made popcorn shop and ice cream parlor, opened on May 1, 2008 in its current Downtown Kenosha location at 5503 6th Ave.
Q. What made you get into the popcorn/ice cream business?
A. The idea began with the acquisition of our two vintage popcorn wagons in October 2005. During our first two seasons at HarborMarket, it became apparent that we needed a permanent location to produce and expand our popcorn business. The ice cream component was included because we like ice cream, and to draw seasonal traffic and help sustain the new, untested storefront popcorn business.
Q. Can you tell us the back story on the name Sandy’s Popper?
A. When we acquired our two mid-1950’s vintage popcorn wagons from their original owner. Sandy noticed a “For Sale” sign on the red wagon at an outdoor craft fair/car show we attended in Burlington. Sandy genuinely wanted to buy the red wagon. In discussion we learned that the owner had the second, orange wagon. We acquired both the red and orange wagons; they were Sandy’s poppers. Although we had no formal plan to start a popcorn business; we both loved popcorn and the novelty of the high-quality antique popcorn wagons. We registered the business and began organizing ideas and materials to prepare for opportunities to sell to the public. HarborMarket (started in 2003) was on our minds as a place to start popping. Because we would only be mobile at the time we were “Sandy’s Popper Express”.
Q. Why did you choose Downtown Kenosha for your location?
A. Sandy’s Popper is a local, family-owned shop. We both grew up in Kenosha and experienced the Downtown-centered lifestyle and attractions.
For us, opening a shop in Downtown Kenosha was very important. We wanted to create memories of ice cream and popcorn for others as we had experienced ourselves at long gone places like Dutch Maid, Penny’s and the popcorn wagons. Prior to establishing our current storefront shop we cruised Downtown until we found a suitable location.
We hope to preserve and continue to grow our presence in Kenosha, as we continue with Thomas, our son, as the full-time master gourmet popcorn maker.
Q. What do you love the most about running one of the most successful ice cream shops in the area?
A. This business began mostly as a hobby, our kids were grown, and we were what most people would consider, entering our retirement years. But, we had the time and energy to greet the challenges and pressures in starting and running a small business. We are pleased that we have been able to grow and adapt the business as circumstances have changed over time. Our satisfaction comes from providing memories for Downtown visitors, employment (often first-time), and opportunities to evolve and improve, and being a part of an important, growing Downtown destination.
Q. Can you tell us about all the great flavors of popcorn that you have and what goes into making it?
A. Our popcorn list includes nearly 100 popcorn varieties, with several popcorn ‘families’: cheese (20 varieties), caramel corn (20 varieties), candy-coated (20 varieties), kettle (5 varieties), cake (3 varieties), plain (3 varieties), combination mixes/blends (10 varieties).
All of our popcorn items are made and packaged in-house. We can also make-to-order nearly any reasonable color and flavor upon request.
Q. How do you choose what flavors of popcorn/ice cream to make and serve?
A. Our popcorn flavors reflect our own and customer likes and preferences, employee and customer suggestions and our continuing exploration of new ideas and ingredients from our many suppliers.
Our ice cream flavors are selected from the most popular and featured items from our supplier Cedar Crest as well as employee and customer requests/suggestions. Sundaes/boats, shakes/malts are custom made to order, but begin with popular menu items.
We serve traditional ice cream cones and cups and made-to-order sundaes, floats, shakes and malts, plus loaded ice cream sundae boats and unique, limited/featured Hurricane Shakes. Plus, we offer six-flavor samplers.
In addition to popcorn and ice cream we are also known for our “home-made” popcorn balls, chocolate turtles, chocolate dipped pretzel rods and cinnamon praline nuts and a wide variety of nostalgic candy.
Q. What makes Sandy’s Popper stand out from other similar businesses?
A. We are local, rooted and invested in Kenosha. Our kids live in Kenosha and are raising their families here; they attended Kenosha Public Schools, participated in local organizations and worked in local businesses.
As a business, we work to offer fun-oriented ice cream, popcorn, nostalgic sweets, and special event products along with good customer service, a cheery shop setting and family-friendly pricing. All of these factor in as we continue to build our loyal customer base.
Q. Summer is your busiest season, how do you prepare for such high demand of your product?
A. Our overall business is seasonal, holiday and weather dependent. Ice cream is very seasonal. Popcorn is multi-seasonal. Customer service staffing and open hours vary with the seasons as well. Popcorn production is small-batched and flexibly-oriented. We have local and regional suppliers that can provide excellent response and a wide range of varied/alternate suppliers.
Q. Where do you see Sandy’s Popper in the next 5 years?
A. We continue to invest in new equipment, improved processes and flexibility in the production and distribution of high-quality small batch gourmet popcorn varieties. We have been growing in the corporate/departmental, non-profit and academic customer arenas.
The ice cream business is very competitive but we strive to grow our loyal base as customer satisfaction and name recognition grows.
Q&A and photos by Donny Stancato
Edited by Jason Hedman
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(This article first appeared in the Downtown Kenosha Magazine Summer 2022 issue)