ANDOVER — Most start-ups begin with a kernel of an idea. Jo-Anne and Scott Gibson’s new business also started with a kernel — literally.
She’s a school nurse and he works for the fire department, but the husband-and-wife team had been casting about for a small food business to run on the side. Jo-Anne, who grew up in the Midwest, was an avid home cook and baker. “As of last fall,” says Scott, “we’d done some travel here and there and seen some gourmet popcorn shops in Chicago and elsewhere.” Jo-Anne says her mother, Jayne, was “a real popcorn lover.” Adds Scott, “We just put two and two together.”
And so, like a bolt from the blue, or perhaps like corn exploding from a popper, Lady Jayne’s Gourmet Popcorn was born. At first, the two started selling the premium popcorn from a cart in downtown Andover. “The cart went great,” says Scott, but the couple’s ambitions for the business soon outstripped the capacities of the cart. “It was difficult to move it around, so we decided to go with the mobile food craze.”
Today, the Gibsons can be spotted tooling around in a 1957 International Metro Van that Scott bought, sight unseen, from a fellow in Oregon; he restored it and kitted it out with all the equipment needed for a mobile popping unit. The distinctive snub-nosed van is painted sky blue and white, splashed with the Lady Jayne’s logo. Inside, there’s a popper that can turn out 2½ gallons at a time, along with a caramel coater, a cheese spinner, a microwave, and a sink. Customers place orders at a window for small or large bags (from $3 to $8).
The Gibsons knew that the appearance of the van would be an important aspect of the business. “The truck itself is kind of an eye-catcher,” says Scott. “We’ve been asked to bring it to weddings and birthday parties and corporate events, and it’s taken on a life of its own.” The truck has made appearances in Peabody, Melrose, Topsfield, and North Reading, and it recently got licensed for North Andover.
Both Gibsons have learned more about popcorn than they ever would have thought possible. “There are different kernels for different types of popcorn,” says Scott. “Some are more delicate, some are sturdier, some are easier to coat.”
Jo-Anne is the mastermind behind Lady Jayne’s impressive array of flavors. The energetic blonde fairly pops with ideas, when it comes to popcorn varieties. There are the standards, available yearround: Scotty’s Classic Caramel, Wicked Good Chedda, Jo-Jo’s Olive Oil & Sea Salt, Frankie’s Chicago Style (this is a mixture of caramel and cheese corn that the Gibsons swear is popular in the Windy City). It doesn’t stop there, though. Jo-Anne has spent time perfecting such rotating and seasonal flavors as Pumpkin Caramel, White Cheddar and Jalapeno, Italian Butter Cookie, and Caramel Apple. Cinnamon Red Hot was a popular spin, and now look for Kandy Kane, named for Jo-Anne’s mother’s best friend. One of the Gibsons’ two teenage daughters has celiac disease, so all Lady Jayne products are gluten-free.
On a recent chilly weekday afternoon in downtown Andover, business is slow but steady at the popcorn window. An elegantly dressed woman is buying bags of pumpkin caramel, which is sweet and light, with just the right amount of coating and none of the hard bits or unpopped kernels that can spoil the popcorn-eating experience. Customers with a larger appetite for popcorn can order tins from the Lady Jayne website, in sizes ranging from 1 to 3½ gallons ($22.95 to $48.95).
Scott Gibson believes that Lady Jayne’s is the only popcorn truck in New England, and the Gibsons have had to figure it out as they go along. They’re not complaining though, and they’re keeping their day jobs. They work around those schedules, manning the truck on weekends, occasionally weekday afternoons, and at evening events.
As for the business on wheels, “it’s kind of been a little trial-and-error,” says Scott. “But not too much error. We’ve had good luck everywhere we’ve gone.”
Lady Jayne’s Gourmet Popcorn, www.ladyjaynesgourmetpopcorn.com.Jane Dornbusch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.