Monday, August 1, 2011

Garrett's Popcorn and Culture

Have you heard of Chicago's Garrett's Popcorn?  If there was ever a time to have a smell-o-video widget, it's now.  The below video from FoodTV is about 3 minutes long but it gives you an appreciation for Garrett's history and process.

Garrett's is so popular that there is ALWAYS a line snaked outside of each shop.  If you've lived or visited here in the cold of winter or in the most humid of summer, you know that that is a loyal fan base.  It's an excellent problem to have.

You've got to admire the discipline, commitment and the pursuit of popcorn excellence down to the special moisture sensitive kernels.  I could write another post about focus like I did for Intelligentsia but today I'd like to talk about something different.

"It's just popcorn," she said.

So, my cousin H. visited from Paris this past week. Many things were crossed off the tourist checklist: boat tour, libations and views at John Hancock Building's 95th, museums, etc.  As we were walking on Michigan Avenue, the luscious smell of caramel caught her attention and she asked where it was coming from.  I explained it was Garrett's and showed her the line.

It was unfathomable to her that popcorn would draw such a devoted following hence her comment above. I tried to describe the what and why of it but I wasn't successful though she believed me when I said it was delicious and instantly addictive. She speaks 3 languages so there wasn't a language barrier. I realized that this was a blog post in the making.

How do you ignite cultural passion?

Not unlike expensive coffee, heated seats or the microwave oven, someone has to be taught or conditioned to want to stand in line a long time for a bag or tub of popcorn. This teaching and conditioning becomes a little bit more difficult when cultural textures or differences come into play.

Let's face it: a new culture is a foreign language. Expressions, jokes from old television shows and yes, food, can be a foreign language and awfully confusing to newbies whether they are new to a job, city, country or brand. And still, I see all of us making the same mistake over and over. We make them figure it out on their own and don't ever consider that we lose power over our narrative when we do that.

Fish or cut bait.

This expression means "you're in or you're out" which is what we do to those new to us. And it's also fitting for what I'm trying to convey in this post because it means nothing to a) people who aren't fisherman or b) people who have never heard it before.

Make a friend and reclaim your narrative.

Why talk about this at all?  I just sat through another great #cxo chat featuring Vala Afshar, CCO of Enterasys with the topic of how businesses can improve customer communications across channels.  As usual, it was a fast paced and edifying chat.

But I don't remember talking about how you check for "culture" when you monitor customer communications across channels.  I wish I had asked the question because I believe that if we're more sensitive to those who are newbies to us and cultural newbies, we'd all be better off in the short and long terms.

What say you?  Please share below and share with friends.

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef

P.S. Wanna know how vast the fan base is?  See this video for Halle Berry's joyful embrace of a Garrett's tub.


  1. Great post! Garretts is amazing and worth the wait. It is a Chicago institution and people are passionate about it. Who knew that people could be passionate about popcorn (but they are)! Also, I was not aware of the start in Milwaukee, that is great to know.

  2. Hey #unGeeked buddy! Thanks for your comment. I thought the Milwaukee tidbit was interesting, too! It's easy to "get" the passion if you're from these parts but I thought it so fascinating at how weird it looks to others. Great lesson.

  3. You don't say whether you were successful in overcoming the food-culture barrier to make your cousin a Garrett Popcorn fan!

    Regardless, glad to inspire such an interesting post!

  4. Thanks for stopping by! Converting her is where I failed and what inspired me to write. The line was long and the heat was stifling. I couldn't explain it in enough good ways other than "awesome" and "delicious" to make her want to get in line. :((

  5. Drop me a line next time she's in town & we'll see about making her a fan.


  6. Thanks, Tammy! That is so nice and generous! Makes me love the midwestern vibe of Garrett's even more! Have a wonderful day!