Try this POP quiz. Which of the following popcorn flavors were invented by Linda Sghiatti from New Hope’s Clusters Handcrafted Popcorn?
Buffalo Wing-It? White Cheddar Chipotle? Cookie Explosion? or Monkey Crisp?
- All off the above
- None off the above
- All except the Monkey Crisp flavor which was designed by an eight year old client
- Are you kidding me? This stuff smells so good. Give me some of every flavor now!
Keep reading to find out the correct answer.
During our entire conversation, Linda stands behind the counter, mixing her white clusters, adding flavors and pouring her secret mixes atop the freshly made batches of popcorn. With every stir, a wave of mouthwatering smell wafts into the room, filling the air of Clusters Handcrafted Popcorn Shop with an irresistible aroma that blends so perfectly with the sounds, and colors of popular S. Main St in New Hope PA.
So Linda how did you end up in the world of popcorn?
On July fourth 2010, my husband Jules, me and our kids were down at the shore having fun. Jules decided to take a ride on his jet ski and before heading off, he said that we should all meet for caramel corn at Johnson’s on the boardwalk after his ride. For us, caramel corn was like a cherry on the sundae – the perfect way to end a fun day at the beach. Unfortunately, that jet ski ride did not end well for Jules. He was seriously injured and instead of strolling on the boardwalk eating caramel corn later that day, he was headed to the ER and eventually to serious back surgery, followed by another one and a long, painful recovery.
Almost a year later, Jules was still recovering from the jet ski accident and had to walk a lot of for his rehab. One Friday, we were walking through New Hope to see the fireworks on the river, and craving the perfect treat to go along with the fireworks. Ice cream doesn’t last long enough and I hate when it drips and makes you all sticky. I pointed out to Jules that other than ice cream, there are really no other treats to munch on while walking around town. Jules suddenly remembered the caramel popcorn that we never managed to get on the day of his accident, “Wouldn’t it be cool if there was caramel corn in town?” And thus the idea of opening a popcorn shop was born.
And what happened then?
For a while we tried to contact Johnson’s Popcorn to explore the franchising opportunity. But they never got back to us. So we started playing with the idea of opening our own shop. I love to cook. My kids always wanted me to own a restaurant but I always found the idea too overwhelming. But making caramel popcorn everyday sounded so boring. But then one day, shortly after we started discussing the idea, I was at a Cold Stone Creamery and while watching how they mix up ice cream flavors, it hit me. We could join these two popular ideas together!
And that was it – we had this perfect idea of creating our own unique, signature, flavored popcorn.
So you are not just an entrepreneur you’re also an inventor!
Yes, I guess I am. We started to explore all sorts of mixes in depth. We mixed in anything from chocolate cookies to Reese’s Pieces. There was a lot of trial and error. We were exploring even the craziest ideas. I used my cooking skills and the creative abilities of the entire family to experiment with new flavors and ideas. We found this store on South Main Street, a short walking distance from our home. And the idea started to become a reality.
Did your family mind being the guinee pigs?
There weren’t too many complaints (she responds laughingly). They all became a part of the creative team. My son liked Oreos so we started with that. Jules loves Cracker Jacks so I perfected that flavor. My Peanuts Lovers flavor is amazing. It has so many good things in it. My family was a wonderful help designing the brand, come up with new recipes and flavor ideas. Today you can find all sorts of flavored popcorn. There was nothing when we started and now I see many of the tastes I invented used by other places.
Too bad you can’t patent recipes
That’s right, you can’t, but I guess imitation is a form of flattery. Plus I have my secret ingredients in every mix. And course no one else has access to the best creative team – my family. Recently, we officially trademarked the store as Clusters Handcrafted Popcorn as we get ready to expand and franchise. New stores are opening in Peddler’s Village and Bethlehem and beyond under a new, revamped brand and logo. We evolved quite a bit since the initial idea of a caramel corn shop.
How do you make the perfect popcorn?
It all starts with the corn. We use non GMO corn. It is mushroom popcorn which is tender and pops into a round shape and provide the flavors with a nice surface to caramelize on. I don’t like when my popcorn butterflies or explodes into funny shapes. This can happen when you have a bad batch of corn if it’s off season or moisture ruins it. Then it doesn’t coat as nicely. I always look for nice kernels that become nice mushroom pieces that perfectly hold the flavor. I never serve a bad batch and that’s not so simple. The popwcorn has to stay shiny and not get dry. The oil is also very important. We use only coconut oil which is very clean and healthy.
Nutritionists have informed me that coconut oil also has preservative qualities which helps keep our popcorn fresh without using any artificial preservatives. When you come in here, you smell popcorn. Other popcorn shops may use soy or canola oil which then sometimes you smell the oil and not the popcorn.
Do you make a flavor that you personally don’t like?
People wanted barbecue flavor and we experimented with every kind of BBQ spice to put on the popcorn but I hated every one of them and threw them all away. Then we realized that BBQ can also be kind of sweet and tried a caramelized BBQ. It worked. Now it’s one of our big sellers. The same thing happened with the Sweet Habanero that was created by accident when making a batch of our cinnamon popcorn I mistakenly grabbed the habanero spice instead of cinnamon. To my surprise, this made a awesome sweet and spicy flavor!
Sometimes ideas come from customers. There is one girl that comes here with her parents from Staten Island a few times a year. When she was eight, she helped me come up with a Monkey Crisp flavor that I make especially for her. It is made of banana, vanilla cookies after her grandma’s cake.
Your shop is hovering above the main street of New Hope. How’s the view?
I can see so everything from here, sometimes even more then I want to. I love being here; I get to really experience New Hope. It is an entertaining tourist town, with many colorful people.
Who is the typical popcorn lover?
Who doesn’t like popcorn? It’s a fascinating mixture of people that love popcorn. Families, kids from the nearby schools, couples on their weekend gateways, the hotels and local businesses and even tough looking bikers that say it’s the best treat to put in your pockets while riding your Harley. We make specialty gifts like, “SHE’S ABOUT TO POP”, or “HE POPPED THE QUESTION” We have a lot of fun with it and it’s the kind of treat you almost can’t go wrong with.
Last question, can I try some of the flavors? It smells too good to resist.
You got it.
I almost forgot. The answer for the pop quiz is C. All except the Monkey Crisp flavor that was designed by an eight year old client.
Linda’s Guide to Local Living
A good place to spot celebs
Just outside of the playhouse. Many celebs are stars in the shows and sometimes you may spot them walking around town. Marilu Henner and Justin Guarini (American Idle) are regulars.
Untraditional things to do with popcorn
Popcorn is a great bar snack. Take some with you to any of the great bars in town and it will make your drinks tastier. It goes well with beer and wine.
A great place to dine
We love going to Karla’s. A great place to dine, have a drink and listen to music.
The best time to walk in town
I love New Hope at all times, but especially in the middle of the afternoon. It’s also the busiest time for us at Clusters.
A good place to snack on popcorn while walking in town
Don’t miss walking down by the river next to the playhouse. Walk across the bridge to Lambertville. Take a boat ride. Feel the breeze, look at the view or watch the fireworks. Keep your popcorn bag open and come back for more to take home.
Visit Linda on her Website: clusterspopcorn.com
At the Clusters Shop:
87A South Main Street
New Hope, PA 18938