For Nance White-Wright, popcorn is a family tradition, almost a way of life. She and her husband, Jerry Wright, are the third generation owners of Velvet Creme Popcorn, 4710 Belinder Road, Westwood.
The business dates to 1937 when her grandfather, Howard “Pop” White, was laid off at the local Ford plant and he and Dona “Grammie” White started their venture.
“They started this home business of making homemade fudge and popcorn balls, and friends would come by and buy them,” White-Wright said. “My grandfather fashioned a large gas-fired kettle to make it in.”
Eventually, Pop White went back to work, but the couple decided to keep the popcorn business going. Over the years, he returned to the popcorn business, and his son Kenneth joined Velvet Creme after serving in the Navy, along with his wife, Patricia. Now the third generation of the family is in charge of the gourmet popcorn company.
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“I started working with my father when I was 7,” said White-Wright. “We would come in and sweep floors and help clean things. We weren’t allowed to wait on customers until we could count change backward.”
White-Wright said some things haven’t changed over the decades.
“The recipes are the same, including Grammie’s homemade fudge that we still sell,” White-Wright said. “The quality of ingredients we use has not changed in 70 years. We don’t lessen the quality of any product to save money.”
The popcorn is made on-site and packaged there to be sold in the retail shop or shipped to customers across the country and around the world.
Q: What sets Velvet Creme apart?
One thing, said White-Wright, is the popcorn itself.
“We’ve used the same corn suppliers for 40 years from Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri fields that are well-irrigated,” she said. “It creates a quality hybrid of corn that gives us the flavor, size and moisture content we want.”
The two hybrids of corn Velvet Creme uses — called mushroom and butterfly — produce a more tender and round kernel once it is popped, she said.
“Our corn is very consistent,” she said. “It stays the same size and it coats well.”
White-Wright said Velvet Creme has been successful in producing a consistent, high-quality product its customers have grown to expect.
“We have some customers that have been with us for 40 years,” she said.
“We will refill your can — it doesn’t matter if it’s our can either. Just wipe it out and make sure there is no rust inside, and we will put fresh product of your choice in it for half the price. It makes us very green.”
Velvet Creme’s staple has been the three-flavor can of popcorn; the most popular combination has been buttered, cheese and caramel. But many flavor arrangements are sold in cans as well as bags, gift baskets and boxes. The company also sells popcorn balls and popcorn lollipops, chocolate-covered popcorn, and Grammie’s fudge and peanut brittle.
Velvet Creme has been a pioneer in the popcorn industry, according to White-Wright, creating the decorated popcorn can.
“My mother, Patricia, was the entrepreneur with the decorated cans,” White-Wright said. “She hand painted the silver cans with a Santa or holiday theme, and they would do other holidays as well. … I can remember every stage that she would do. She would do one color and then add another. She painted thousands of cans.”
Times changed, and today the cans’ designs are produced by one company on the East Coast.
Q: Where has the growth occurred for Velvet Creme?
White-Wright said holiday business has greatly increased. Velvet Creme goes from 10 employees up to 60 during November and December to handle the holiday rush. Its products are sold in the company retail store as well as local grocers including Hy-Vee and Price Chopper. Online business is brisk, as well. White-Wright said 35 percent of its business comes from store sales, 35 percent from its website and the rest from corporate accounts, a growing segment.
“You can customize cans with a company logo on the lid or the body of the can, and there are lots of different options,” she said. “We can personalize cards as well.”
The company now includes the fourth generation of the White family; the couple’s son, Dave Wright, and daughter, Lisa Kelsey, are vice presidents. And everyone seems to get along well.
“We have a good time,” White-Wright said. “We listen to each other and respect each other. We all have the same motive, and that’s to move forward and enjoy what we’re doing.”
Family remains the key ingredient for Velvet Creme and its success.
“Dad is still our inspiration,” said White-Wright, referring to Kenneth White, who died in 1996 at the age of 69. “He’s the wind beneath our wings.”
IN A NUTSHELL
COMPANY: Velvet Creme Popcorn
ADDRESS: 4710 Belinder Road, Westwood, KS