Monday, November 11, 2013

Gift Buying Week: Local Flavors To Share With Friends And Family Over The Holidays

Crunch Daddy popcorn
At the moment, my brain is completely obsessed by CrunchDaddy Popcorn.

My family gave me a birthday gift certificate, and CrunchDaddy hooked me up with an extra bag of one of his special holiday flavors.  That's a [secret flavor -- one of three to be announced soon] that really had great crunch and creaminess.  But I'm actually obsessed by the "peanut better & jelly" where they mix in real peanut better and minced grape jelly beans.  I keep sneaking back to the half-gallon bucket for one handful more.

The beauty of CrunchDaddy's popcorn is that it isn't just sugary.  They're real flavors -- leaning sweet with caramel variations, but giving a nod to savory with "Maryland crab seasoning" and getting brilliant with flavors like a sesame-ginger.  You should buy some to eat.  You should think about people who might want sweets as a holiday gift.

The other beauty of CrunchDaddy's popcorn is that it's local.  It's a Howard County guy cooking in a Howard County kitchen.  If you're thinking about holiday gifts, you can shop local and find terrific items for the food lovers in your life.  We're not a shopping destination like DC or Bethesda, but I thought that a week of posts might inspire you to look around.  You could have fun.  You could support local businesses.  And you don't need to compromise.

Food Lover's Guide To Baltimore
You'll need to decide what you care about when it comes to local.  Etsy has the hardcore option -- on-line shops for artists who work in Howard County like Kiki(Verde)'s jewelry from Laurel.  In contrast, the Maryland Shop in Westminster goes with the statewide theme -- mixing some locally-produced items like honey from the Hillside Apiary with other cool items that may be more "Maryland-theme" than "Maryland-made."

The Food Lover's Guide To Baltimore has the similar issue.  Authors are local.  Published presumably in China.  Sold on Amazon unless you can find it at the Barnes and Noble in Columbia.  But it's a terrific handbook for anyone who wants to explore Baltimore eating.  It's local in my book.

I buy things from all over.  I just think that -- as you think about buying gifts -- you should consider the value of finding good stuff that you can buy from local folks.  CrunchDaddy is now available at David's Natural Market in Columbia, the Breadery in Oella, and liquor stores like Jason's on Rte 40, the Wine Bin on Main Street, and Decanter Fine Wine in the Hickory Ridge village center.  (All retail locations are on this Web page.)  You support a local manufacturer and a local store that you're probably happy to have around for other shopping.  And the friend on your gift list will be happy as well.

Coming this week:

  • Tuesday: "Make A Howard County Gift Bag,"
  • Wednesday: "Food And Kitchen Shopping In Howard County,"
  • Thursday: "Other Cool Shopping in Howard County"
Click below for another voice about local shopping.  Nikki tells the story that you can't get from a big company.

For more on the value of local businesses, I turn this over to Nikki, who emailed me last month with her own tale about Crunch Daddy Popcorn.
Full disclosure: I am a popcorn snob. I've been popping my own (with hot oil and salt and butter - none of that air popped nonsense) - since I was 12 - eating it at least once a week. I'm rarely a fan of purchased novelty popcorn - but I tried CrunchDaddy after reading all the rave reviews. It was delivered to my house on a rainy day, and hung on my door just long enough to turn the popcorn to leather. I received an automated email from CrunchDaddy inviting me to post a review on the CrunchDaddy website. I hadn't planned to complain, but since I was invited to comment, I did so. I explained that, while the flavors were excellent, the texture was terrible and that my guess was that the rainy day was at fault. My snobbery about purchased pre-popped novelty corn had been reinforced, my curiosity about CrunchDaddy was over. 
I had forgotten for a moment how different it is to deal with small, local businesses. Dan Bazis (Mr. CrunchDaddy himself) contacted me shortly after I sent the review and apologized for my unsatisfactory experience and promised to make it right. I told him it was unnecessary, that I was sure the weather was to blame, but he insisted.

He personally delivered a replacement batch of everything I ordered - with a bonus flavor, all for free. (A conglomerate would probably have sent me a coupon - if I was lucky to hear back at all) I sampled it, expecting it to be better than before, but not as good as my own hot, buttery deliciousness. Boy was I wrong. I was completely blown away by how much the texture impacted the taste itself. The flavors were incredible and the crispy crunch was heavenly. I had the "Maple & Bacon Crunch," the "Sweet Butter Crunch," the "Horseradish Cheddar" and my bonus flavor "Honey Cinnamon."   All were amazing. The Sweet Butter Crunch with it's light-shattering cloak of sweetness and real buttery goodness was a revelation (and I ate it all watching Game 5 of the World Series ... despite telling my kids that I'd save some for them). 
The maple and bacon is what I'll be sending the guys on my holiday shopping list:   decadent, sweet, savory - a manly flavor, if there is such a thing. The horseradish cheddar was spicy and rich and completely addictive, and the honey cinnamon was full of genuinely spicy-sweet authentic cinnamon flavor (even after I started skeptical because most cinnamon treats taste like potpourri to me).  I made the mistake of letting my kids try it, and they took the bag and made it disappear. Quality was evident in every bite. This guy cares about his popcorn. He is proud of his product, and it shows. I will be a repeat customer (especially now that I can pick up the flavors retail). I also plan to do some serious holiday shopping on his website for friends and family that live far away.

Had Dan not followed up and made sure that a disappointed customer had a second chance to sample his product, I would not have ordered from him again. It was a strong reminder to me of why small business matters. Personal contact with the customer base is important. A business that listens to customer feedback and responds immediately to make sure their product is properly represented is a business that I will frequent again and again. Small Business Saturday is coming soon - but I think small business needs more than one day a year. Having these local businesses is critical to what gives a community its identity. I have a feeling that CrunchDaddy won't be 'Small' for long - but I sure hope he stays local.


Jessica said...

I have to agree with Nikki's sentiments- the customer service is what puts CrunchDaddy over the top. I've actually never tasted the popcorn because I've always sent it as gifts to my elderly grandparents when I couldn't make it back to the area to give a gift in person. I've always communicated directly with Dan himself, and he's been great about arranging for the delivery at a time that would suit my grandparents. Knowing that my money is going back to a community I love makes the purchase that much sweeter, and the popcorn gets great reviews as well. Someday soon (maybe today, since I'm nine months pregnant...) I swear I will order a bag for myself. I hope for his sake that he receives a lot of orders this Christmas, but for my own sake that he's not too busy to prepare a massive amount of popcorn for me, since the new baby will keep us from buying regular Christmas gifts this year (popcorn for EVERYONE!).

Mrs. HowChow said...

Leave some for me!

Jessica said...

I received my massive popcorn order today (perfect timing, thanks to Dan!) and couldn't wait to finally try some for myself. And by some, I mean some of every flavor I ordered for my husband and myself. Definitive ranking:

1. Movie night crunch (it's what movie theater popcorn should taste like)
2. Honey & cinnamon crunch
3. Sweet butter crunch and PB&J
4. Maryland crab feast crunch (would be tied for third, but the very fine powder makes me cough a little; the flavor is perfect, however)

Of course, the rankings are deceptive because these are all delicious and so different that I would order any of them again (and for others) depending on my mood. I also see they've added a bunch of new flavors for the holidays, so I may be placing another order as soon as this one runs out for the toffee and the pistachio.