JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Patriot Popcorn’s dozens of gourmet popcorn flavors with names like ‘Fat Elvis!’ and ‘Aboriginal’ ship across the country, but the veteran-owned business’s freshest batches will be available only in Johnson City when the business relocates from Illinois this spring.
“We’re known for our caramels and cheddars we make,” co-owner Mike Brady told News Channel 11 from the company’s Hinckley, Ill. headquarters Wednesday. “We’re over 80 different flavors right now, and we’re just going to keep making flavors and keep going until we can’t make any different ones.”
Patriot Popcorn will open at 407 N. Roan Street, Suite 109 on the first floor of the Paxton Place apartment building. Brady and his brother John have run the business out of a home, operating a small storefront, since February 2020.
Their plan was to attend farmers’ markets, fairs and events for veterans, first responders and children’s charities. The company donates varying amounts of proceeds to an array of non-profits. John Brady is an Army veteran and Mike Brady’s wife was a paramedic and firefighter.
“We’ve grown up around that setting, and then when our mom came down with cancer a few years ago, everyone that helped from the EMTs from all the stuff she went through to the nurses and doctors — I guess the best way to say it is, we wanted to start a business, yes, to work for ourselves, but we wanted to have it be something more than that.”
Despite what happened in February 2020, the Bradys weathered the COVID storm. The plan was to attend fairs, festivals and other outdoor events.
“Obviously that did not happen with the way things went, so I spent about two months building the website, my brother did all the photography for it. We just started selling online, little bits here and there to kind of recoup some of the money that we already invested.”
Brady said the pair, while constantly tinkering with new varieties, sold about 30,000 bags in 2020. That rose to roughly 150,000 in 2021.
“That’s even going up still from online sales alone, so we’re definitely growing,” he said.
With a move to Johnson City, the Bradys will add a more traditional, while small, walk-in component to their business, which offers flavors ranging from the traditional to the creative and, some might say, bold if not bizarre. There’s Sour Cream and Chives, Bacon Jalapeno Popper and Blue Raspberry, next to tried and true varieties like Cheddar Cheese, Butter and Dark Chocolate Caramel.
“We make the sour blue raspberry and it tastes just like the blue raspberry Sour Patch Kids,” Brady said. “We’ve got over 80 flavors and people just kind of look and they’re like, ‘what are you guys thinking?’ And then they try it and they’re like ‘holy crap, I never would have expected that to go well.'”
The names can get creative as well. “Santa’s Drunk Again” is a “sweet and creamy eggnog popcorn,” while “Fat Elvis!” combines peanut butter, banana and marshmallow.
“Popcorn is just a base,” Brady said. “You can add anything and everything to it to taste pretty much like whatever you want. So once they actually try it, they’re like, ‘wow. That actually is pretty good.’ So you’d be surprised what you can do with popcorn.”
The brothers will move into a small space at the corner of North Roan and State of Franklin Road that’s been for lease ever since the apartments replaced two former buildings in 2012. They’ll actually be joined by a gourmet coffee business that is also relocating from Illinois.
“We’re hoping we can actually take over that space middle, end of April and it’s going to take us a couple weeks to do our final layout,” Brady said. “We’re hoping right at the beginning of May we can open the doors and have people come on in.”
Jacque Lowe of the Wilson Agency, who worked with the Bradys, said the fact that the niche space has landed a tenant after all these years speaks to rising demand for retail and restaurant space in downtown Johnson City.