Lincoln Theatre owner's other business is poppin'

August 19, 2013 

Job: Owner, Abe's Gourmet Popcorn at 101A E. Main St. in Belleville (233-9010 www.abesgourmetpopcorn.com)

Outlook: "We thought, why don't we just expand our popcorn because everybody loves it anyway?"

It was two years ago this month when Dave and Sandy Schoenborn opened their gourmet popcorn business next to their movie theater, the Lincoln Theatre in downtown Belleville. Initially, they started with about 20 different flavors that included an assortment of buttered, cheese, caramel and chocolate popcorn. They have since doubled their selection that now includes black licorice-, cherry- and green apple-flavored choices. Dave Schoenborn recently invited business writer Will Buss over to talk popcorn:

Why did you start this business?

"Everyone always loved the Lincoln (Theatre) popcorn, and we've always had people who've come just to buy the popcorn here. We were doing some other remodeling (at the theater) and we thought, why don't we just expand our popcorn because everybody loves it anyway?"

Exactly how many flavors do you have?

"Well, we're saying over 40 now. We keep a fair amount on the shelf. Some of those are seasonal, and they come and go. Some of those are experiments. We have a few that we don't make regularly, but on request."

What is the most popular?

"The chocolate peanut butter and caramel. If you want to count by numbers, it's caramel and another that's caramel and cheddar together, and the chocolate-peanut butter is right up there with them. Those are the three top sellers."

So how does one make green apple or sour cream and chives popcorn?

"Some of the flavors we have are seasonings that we make and others are seasonings that you can buy commercially. But the key is to use good ingredients. For all of our ingredients, we try to use the top-notch seasonings to make it better. Real vanilla flavoring, not invitation vanilla. Stuff like that. Our caramel is our own recipe from scratch. I had a friend of mine give me the base and then we tweaked it to something we could manage and do here. Our cheddar isn't a powder. Our cheddar is a paste. We just don't have chocolate-peanut butter, we have flavored chocolate that we use. We mix all of that ourselves. That is something unique to us."

What kind of popcorn do you use?

"We use a mushroom corn. The mushroom is what you need to use to do the coatings, and on some of the savories I just use the theater popcorn because the kernel opens up more like a flower so the season has a place to catch on to. The mushroom corn is more smooth. So for the savories, we use the regular popcorn for that because it's more of a flower and has more places for the seasoning to hold on to."

Abe's Gourmet Popcorn is also available at the theater?

"Yes, you can always buy it at the theater concession stand. We're here during the day making it, but we may not be open at night, but on the weekends we tend to be open. We're open on Friday nights all of the time and then on Saturday, depending on how popular the show is at the theater."

How long has your family owned the theater?

"It's been in the family since 1980. And my wife and I have been running it since the mid-2000s."

How has this business complemented the theater?

"It seems to fit along really well. We're still learning how to do stuff en masse because we make everything in small batches. But as our volume picks up, we've got to figure out a better way to do that and we have a very small space here, too. We're still building the business."

Contact reporter Will Buss at wbuss@bnd.com or 239-2526.

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