Hayward Gourmet

“Have you been here before?” That’s the most likely greeting you’ll get as you enter the doors of this tiny Main Street treasure called Hayward Main Street Gourmet Popcorn aka Hayward Gourmet. Get ready, as you walk through the doors, you’re about to undergo a full-sensory experience with Jennifer, Kerri and staff. They will invite you to try any product on the shelf, and you’ll soon learn about the uniqueness of this family-owned and operated business. It’s deceiving, the retail store is small, but the wholesale distribution and fundraising components of the business send the delicious treasurers nationwide.

Yes, it is in the small town of Hayward, Wisconsin, that all product is made, flavored, hand-packed and then distributed to the masses. Using only high-quality ingredients, the popcorn is popped in coconut oil and uniquely flavored– no cost cutting measures in this company. They create specialty and flavored popcorns that add chocolate, nuts, and so much more. Recently, they’ve expanded to create a variety of fudge flavors, as well. Freshness is a must! Uniqueness is what keeps people coming back.

Jennifer Vobornik and Karri Weller, partners of Hayward Main Street Gourmet Popcorn, relay different stories of how they got here but they share the same goal in developing their partnership and growing the business. The retail store is at the entrance of Main Street – this is where it all started. In 2002 Jen and her husband interviewed for teaching positions within the Hayward Community School system. Both were hired and began teaching locally. In 2012, after changes in union policies affected the workplace atmosphere in which she spent so much time, Jen decided she wanted a change. She visited her mom and dad and learned that the popcorn shop they all knew and loved was up for sale. Immediately she started dreaming about owning it. She intended to create a family business that could support her family in the years to come. Being a risk-taker, Jen called the previous owners who had abruptly closed the shop due to personal reasons, and she began putting those dreams into action.

The stores origins? With recipes purchased from Utah friends, the previous owners opened the Main Street store in Hayward and ran it seasonally for several years before Jen’s dream began. It was the beginning of the 2012 summer season that she and her husband pooled all their money, maxed out their credit cards, received a down payment from parents and took the plunge. They kept the purchase a secret at first and ran the first season through those first summer months. In the fall, Jen left the school and became a full-time business owner and manager of Hayward Gourmet. Her friend and school co-worker, Kerri, worked for her during that first summer. By the time summer was over Hayward Gourmet had a small website. That very fall Jen’s dad joined her in the business. It wasn’t long before the family decided their venture needed to be full-time and in so doing, the popcorn fundraising and wholesale programs began. By the following summer they were open full-time. Their e-commerce business was growing, website fundraising was booming, and the business was off and running

In 2015 they went entered multi-level marketing by hand—that means all paper recordkeeping. For nearly a year they hosted popcorn parties and replicated websites. Launching into the social media mode they changed software to handle the boost in business using direct selling models and now have 200 reps nationwide. Generally, it takes 7-10 years of established sales to “make it” in multilevel marketing and they are in year 6.

Jen and Kerri talk about experiencing traditional growth pains. In 2017 the school district called and offered Jen a position again. The store was turning customers away because they had no space to expand, and at the time they couldn’t afford a bigger space. Back to the school she went with a new goal of thinking about where she wanted to go with the business. Kerri, being the teacher aide in the classroom at the time, offered to become her partner in June. And, in August they bought the building on California Avenue and went for the expansion that would take them to the next level.

“We are blessed” they say. They remember where they came from; the tiny building, creating the foundation around the four programs (retail, online, fundraising and multi-level sales). Each program focuses on different seasons of the year. They have twelve employees, gathering them up from as far as Florida and Minnesota, mostly family and friends.  Their is pride in making corn every day--small batches, creating 38 standard flavors and 22 rotating featured flavors. Pickle Pop, anyone? Ingredients are purchased locally, supporting businesses and families who in turn come back as customers. Their product is unique, the gift baskets are magnificent, and everything is hand-packed—it’s quality!

The business is family focused. Jen’s mom manages the retail store, dad makes the caramels and works the store in the summer, Jen’s kids grow up through the ranks as store employees, and the eldest son has his own goals of someday being the head of the organization. Kerri and Jen share responsibilities and each have their own special talents. It’s become a family project from top to bottom. On the rare occasion they aren’t working, Kerri spends time dabbling in crafts and photography while Jen spends those precious spare moments sleeping. After all, she has ten kids!

While the business continues to grow, there are still some who find it as a hidden treasure. They often see that the shop is known more outside the area than right at home. As often happens with Hayward, one can travel just about anywhere and when the name is dropped, someone will say, “I know that place!”

To try this gourmet experience, visit them on Main Street Hayward or go to their website: haywardgourmet.com