A poppin’ new snack company in Santa Clarita

Amanda Bell, left, and Shelia Moran, right, recently hosted their pop-up business at the Westfield Valencia Town Center. The mother-and-daughter team love operating a business in their hometown around a snack that has a special family meaning. Cory Rubin/The Signal

Most think of popcorn coming in a handful of classic flavors, such as butter, caramel or cheddar — but a new, local family business is bringing all those flavors and more.

Mary Lou’s Gourmet Popcorn began with a base of 18 flavors — including all the classics you’d expect — along with other unique ones, like dill pickle, hot wing and birthday cake. There are also special flavors that cycle in each season, along with a flavor of the month.

Run by the mother-and-daughter team of Shelia Moran and Amanda Bell, the pair teamed up to create the popcorn brand, naming it after their inspiration, Mary Lou, Moran’s mother.

“She was, and still is, a major influence in our family,” Moran said. “For me, growing up every night we would have popcorn … that was the snack before you went to bed.”

Cory Rubin/The Signal

“One of the reasons we started this was to be able to give back,” Bell added.

In fact, 10% of each sale goes to Casa Shalom Orphanage in Guatemala, which is run by Mary Lou’s granddaughter.

“That’s another one of the attributes gleaned from Mary Lou,” Moran said. “We really like donating to events — it’s not just about getting our name out there.”

Now, they look for any opportunity to give back, including doing fundraisers for schools and clubs in which they give back 50% of proceeds.

The pair started the business on a whim, Bell said, after she had visited a gourmet popcorn shop in Ohio, and thought of bringing it to Santa Clarita.

“We spent the next six to nine months, mostly Amanda, doing research,” Moran said, “looking up every gourmet popcorn place she could find, seeing what flavors were popular.”

“It was a little more complicated than I realized,” Bell added.

Cory Rubin/The Signal

In the summer of 2017, they created a group of about 20 taste-testers across the country. They would mail samples and tasters would reply via Survey Monkey to rate the flavors and give feedback.

In April 2018, Mary Lou’s officially launched with their first show appearance and the launch of their website.

The cooking began in their kitchen and moved to a commercial kitchen in Sherman Oaks, but neither was convenient. In early 2019, the pair found a commercial kitchen in Canyon Country where they now have free rein to cook whenever they need.

“It allows us to create four times as much in a third of the time, so hooking up with them has been a game-changer for us,” Bell said.

Cory Rubin/The Signal

They have created a good baseline, so it’s now a lot easier to come up with new flavors.

“When we first started, it would take several hours per recipe,” Bell said. “Just our basic caramel, I did like 19 different batches … That’s a lot of popcorn.”

They want to keep the business local, and are mainly an online store that ships nationally with pop-up shops at local fairs, festivals and shows, but have begun branching out, doing popcorn bars at parties and weddings as well as partnering with local businesses who want to sell their product.

The pair is currently working on their fall flavors, which will include flavors like pumpkin pie, cappuccino and cranberry vanilla almond.

For more information, visit marylousgourmetpopcorn.com.

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