Poppy Popcorn Co.

Poppy Popcorn Co.: Community is key

Sara Lawton found family, community and her beloved pet were all a big help in starting her popcorn business.

Sara Lawton found family, community and her beloved pet were all a big help in starting her popcorn business. Her mother helped with the time-consuming process of making popcorn, her dad built the pegboard walls Sara designed for product display, her husband helped with new flavor development and Dave Armstrong at the Barron County Office of Economic Development helped her connect with important local resources. Poppy, the adorable Boykin Spaniel in Sara’s home, became the namesake of Poppy Popcorn Co. for her love of catching popcorn kernels tossed to her. 


Sara purchased a building in the historic Main Street district in Rice Lake. With the help of the Regional Business Fund micro-loan, she was able to finance the buildout of the space and improve things like plumbing and flooring. As a new entrepreneur, Sara came to the Wisconsin Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Eau Claire for assistance with a business plan and projections. The business opened in 2018; they sold out the first day and they exceeded those sales projections in the first six months! 


Customers love the classic flavors: Salted Cow, Say Cheese, Uncle Sam’s Classic Caramel Corn and others. Since that opening day, Sara has added lots of unique and limited-edition flavors like the Wedding Mix and the Pregnancy Cravings Collection (which features social media crowd-sourced ideas like dill pickle and peanut butter). 

The Mix of the Month serves as a regular promotion to give back to the community. Per purchase, $1 is donated to a local not-for-profit organization. For every gift set purchased, $6 is contributed as a way to help promote awareness of these organizations. So far, Poppy Popcorn Co. has sponsored 12 different local organizations including Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) which helps meet needs for children in foster care. By switching to printing labels in-house, Sara was able to lower packaging costs as well as add the non-profit organization’s logo to the new label each month so people know where the donations are going. Sara commented, “I want to be part of a community and help make that community a good place to be for all.” 

“Luke was very helpful in keeping me informed of grant support during the pandemic.”
Sara Lawton
Poppy Popcorn Co.
  • Financial projections
  • Business plan
  • Funding resources

The business was growing quickly when COVID hit. Sara found creative ways to keep her popcorn shop successful, like selling at an open-air farmers market. She also opened a second location in Cumberland that offered drive-thru service. In April of 2021, she began a partnership with Door Dash to offer more deliveries than she could provide herself. This partnership was seamless as Door Dash stepped in to make all the deliveries of Teacher Appreciation Gift Sets to local schools. 

One of Sara’s most innovative pivots during the pandemic was funded by Main Street America, a nationwide COVID relief funding competition. Sara submitted her design for a walk-up window which featured plexiglass doors to see into the shop and a cube through which to pass merchandise. Sara said. “I was blown away to be one of three Wisconsin businesses to win this national prize.” The funding dollars were also used to launch online sales. 

Sara had not intended to offer online retail so soon, but the need presented itself. Sara said, “The five-year plan I developed with the help of the SBDC suddenly came together in four months. The support I received from Luke at the SBDC was excellent. He was very helpful in keeping me informed of grant support during the pandemic.” 

Luke Kempen, center director at the UW-Eau Claire SBDC said, “Sara really values the success of other businesses on Main Street.” This willingness to support the local community has led to growth in sales each year and the promise of a bright future. 


In January 2022, Sara plans to implement construction changes to the building as well as new retail shelving and a more ergonomic package design. The future also includes continuing to train employees in all aspects of the business. For example, since team members learn how to make the popcorn themselves, they can speak informatively to customers with allergies or other dietary needs. Sara is very proud of her two part-time employees and all her seasonal help. “They really understand the business,” she said. Best of luck to this booming business in the future and keep an eye out for more original new flavors to come. 

Check out a pictorial of Poppy Popcorn Co.