Shake It Up! — A Day at Garrett Popcorn Shops®

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Nov 292011

Happy to be shaking!

Shaking, baking and order-taking are the three parts to life at Garrett Popcorn Shops®. After a near disaster with cooking, I returned to the Shop to try my hand as a “shaker.” Shakers are the people who scoop, shake and package the Garrett Popcorn until it’s distributed into fan-favorite, Chicago Mix®, which started when customers suggested combining CaramelCrisp® and CheeseCorn for a sweet and savory blend. We were inspired by fans.

To learn the art of shaking, I watched an experienced Garrett Shaker weave CheeseCorn through CaramelCrisp® with a few flicks of the wrist, followed by a fold and cinch to seal the Bag. Her dexterous fingers made the process appear deceptively easy. Sadly, my attempts to mimic her movements did not lead to the same results.

It became especially clear that I was new to shaking when I tried over and over to make a crisp fold. A polite gentleman waited patiently until the ordeal became too comical for him not to laugh. I joined in his chuckling and sheepishly passed the Bag to more experienced hands.

Folding Bags is not as easy as it looks.

Customers personalize orders of Chicago Mix according to their palate. Some opt for more CaramelCrisp® while others choose to go heavy on the CheeseCorn. Either way, my fellow Shakers were happy to oblige all mixing requests which they shook skillfully regardless of caramel to cheese ratio. Our Chicago Mix is undoubtedly the most popular, but some still prefer to get separate Bags in order to “mix their own and then fight about it,” as one woman told me. I asked her if there was any sharing involved; she responded with a wily smirk.

Throughout the day, I listened to customers tell numerous stories about Garrett Popcorn in their lives. A married couple who shares everything except for Garrett Popcorn, a mom buying a Jumbo Bag of CheeseCorn for an after-school surprise, Russian tourists sharing their first tastes of Garrett — all of these moments contributed to the warmth I experienced in the Shop. I had intended to perfect my skills as a Shaker, but the most valuable thing I learned was that the people, on both sides of the counter, are the true heart of Garrett Popcorn Shops®.

Nov 102011

Between my fascination with mass production and my past as a middle school taffy-maker, I was sure that a day at Garrett Popcorn Shops® would be fantastic.

It was, but not to my credit. I sauntered in at 8 am to find my fellow Garrett cooks already making CaramelCrisp® and CheeseCorn. Despite their early start, they greeted me with welcoming smiles. My new friends let me jump into their everyday routine, not realizing how I would inadvertently disrupt their work day.

Failed Attempt at CaramelCrisp®

After making a few batches of CheeseCorn, I confidently reported an average of three batches an hour to the Shop Manager. He told me that was good “for a slow day.” I must have been mesmerized by the CheeseCorn tumbler.

Next came my attempt at making CaramelCrisp®. I expected this to go smoothly. Wrong again. Instead of the trademark crème brûlée aroma that wanders through downtown, smoke and shame suddenly billowed through the Kitchen. The Cook ran over to salvage the batch, but it was too late. Defeated, I scooped out the darkest Garrett Popcorn I have ever seen.



I retreated to my station at the CheeseCorn tumbler. After cleaning up the mess and throwing out the Popcorn, the Cook told me I needed to try again. I didn’t expect even to be allowed back in the Kitchen, but she patiently walked me through each step. Together we made CaramelCrisp® that actually looked like CaramelCrisp® instead of CaramelBurned.

I learned a lot from a humbling first day in the Shop. I learned that the family vibe of Garrett Popcorn Shops® comes from the kindness of everyone behind the scenes. I learned that when it comes to this beloved Chicago tradition, experience rules in the Kitchen.

I collapsed at home after a long day and let the sweet scent of Garrett Popcorn drift through dreams of my next day in the Shop.