‘The popcorn man,’ O’Neal Larkin, is making his mark one kernel at a time. Oct. 8, 2010, Larkin, a FAMU alumnus, opened up a gourmet popcorn shop, Pop Off.
“Our business wasn’t expensive to start, and we don’t have to spend a lot on marketing,” Larkin said. “The mall has traffic of its own. It draws about 400,000 people each year.”
Larkin started Pop Off because his wife enjoyed flavored popcorn. He took a crash course in popcorn popping through Gold Medal, a popcorn machine vendor. After developing flavors of his own, Larkin moved into his first location. Pop Off sits by BellaDonna Shoe Store, near the southwest entrance of the Governor’s Square Mall.
Larkin’s goal is to resuscitate the snack food’s popularity. Larkin admits that popcorn is not an emerging food trend, like cupcakes and frozen yogurt. According to the new businessman, gourmet popcorn is more common in northern cities, like Chicago and New York. He believes, however, that the bite-size morsel will gain popularity in the South.
His unique item allows for him to experiment with the menu and flavors, which is why the nine menu options at Pop Off are not what they were back in October. Larkin said he’s gone through almost 50 recipe changes since opening.
Katrena Roberts, an employee at Macy’s department store, is a fan of Larkin’s creations.
“I thought it wasn’t going to be as good,” Roberts said. “But, Pop Off is way better than the kind that comes in the Christmas popcorn tins. It’s addictive and it melts in your mouth. Everyone at Macy’s is hooked.”
Larkin said his most loyal customers are mall employees. BellaDonna, J.C. Penney, Macy’s and Foot Locker employees rush to his store front waiting for fresh popcorn.
“My repeat customers are incredible,” Larkin said. “People hear about me through word-of-mouth. People see them with the bags, and it sparks their curiosity.”
The Larkin team wants to move past Apalachee Parkway, and open a site on or near FAMU’s campus. As an alumnus, he wants to be an example for other emerging entrepreneurs.
“Pop Off is about working hard and being successful,” Larkin said.