Fresno has its own little version of a Willy Wonka chocolate factory now that Grandpa’s Popcorn & Sweets has opened.
The shop specializes in flavored popcorn, along with cupcakes and chocolate-covered goodies, including unusual ones like chocolate-dipped jalapeños. More on that combo in a moment.
The shop is at 673 E. Nees Ave., two doors east of Save Mart.
When you walk in, you’re hit with the smell of fresh popcorn twice as strong and luscious as the smell that greets you at a movie theater. That makes sense, since they make 65 flavors of popcorn here, along with baking the cupcakes and dipping treats in chocolate.
Grandpa’s can make 80 pounds of popcorn an hour. Customers can see the popcorn being made, with a worker hoisting a 50-pound bag of kernels into the biggest popcorn maker you’ve ever seen.
The popcorn is then coated with flavorings like caramel, cotton candy, cinnamon roll and vanilla nut. Others sport fruit colors of red (cherry), blue (raspberry) and more.
Customers can taste free samples of all these flavors from gumball machine-like dispensers that measure out a few pieces at a time.
The popcorn is sold in pre-packaged bags and can be sold in tins or other gift-basket style containers.
While traditional caramel corn is customers’ favorite, the No. 3 most popular is surprising: Dill pickle popcorn. The odd flavor has become trendy recently with brands like Trader Joe’s touting it.
Grandpa’s popcorn has a puffed-up round shape like Cracker Jack popcorn. The shape comes from the “mushroom” variety of kernels, unlike movie popcorn, which comes from the butterfly variety, says Daniel Campbell, one of the owners.
He’s the grandson of the grandpa in the business’s name. Grandpa is Fred Campbell, whose cartoon image is on the company logo. Everybody says the logo looks like him, though he jokes, “I don’t think so. I have teeth.” (The caricature doesn’t.)
A Marine in his younger days, Campbell, 77, now runs a financial advising business and doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon. He’s in the shop for at least an hour most days.
“It’s really fun,” he says. “It’s a tremendous amount of work, but it’s also a lot of fun when you see people coming back.”
The idea for Grandpa’s came from Campbell’s family. His brother started Campbell’s Sweets Factory, which now has three stores in Cleveland, Ohio and is run by Fred Campbell’s nephew.
“Ever since my brother started those back east I’ve always been attracted to the fun atmosphere in the store,” he says. “It’s almost like a miniature Disneyland.”
So, with the help of his Ohio family, the Fresno Campbells – Fred, Daniel and his wife, Cassiopeia – opened a West Coast version of the store. It allowed them to skip the trial-and-error phase of a new business and go right to using the family’s proven recipes for cupcakes and popcorn.
Cupcakes come in large and mini sizes, sold individually or by the dozen. At least 12 flavors a day are on display, with many customers going for chocolate cheesecake or the the wedding cake cupcake with almond cake, buttercream frosting and tiny pearls on top.
Nothing in the store is made with peanut butter or peanuts, a nod to allergy sufferers that will also allow it to participate in school fundraisers selling popcorn. The shop does have items with tree nuts, however.
My No. 1 favorite thing in the entire store is the white-chocolate gummy worms.
Daniel Campbell, Grandpa’s Popcorn & Sweets
It carries chocolate-dipped everything: Strawberries, apples, graham crackers, marshmallows, pretzel rods and gummy worms. Chocolate-covered marshmallows are made to look like bunnies or Minions from the movie of the same name.
The popularity of the chocolate-dipped jalapeños surprised the Campbells. They’ve been making 15 a day and often sell out.
It’s a weird – but tasty – combination. Or, as the photographer who took the photos for this story, Silvia Flores, says, “like eating a salad with milk chocolate dressing.”
Each jalapeño is different, so you never know how spicy it’s going to be.
“It’s kind of like jalapeño roulette,” Campbell says.
But customers love them and are asking for even spicier peppers.
“We have people asking for ghost peppers dipped in chocolate,” he notes.
Grandpa’s is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. Details: 559-385-7698.