HELL'S KITCHEN — Pop goes Manhattan.
A group of entrepreneurs are hoping to turn a small popcorn cart in the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center into Manhattan's next healthy snack craze.
Doc Popcorn, a low-fat popcorn cart franchise that's popular in malls around the country, offers all-natural ingredients and unique flavors like hoppin' jalepeno and sinfully cinnamon.
The cart's seen huge success at the convention center and one of its owners, Ira Hochman, said he plans to open the first storefront location in Midtown in March. During one of their first weekends — the New York Comicon in October — the tiny stand sold 1500 bags at $5 each — attracting customers largely through scent alone.
"We want to create smiles," Hochman, 52, said. "What better way than to sell a product that everyone seems to love, and a healthier version of it." The location for the store is yet to be decided.
Unlike movie theater popcorn, Hochman's non-genetically modified corn kernels are cooked in all-natural clarified butter and colored with annatto seed. They're flavored with real cheese.
Doc Popcorn has nine flavors in total, though the stand at the Javits Center typically has three of them cooking at a time. All of the popcorn is made on site.
The cart's being run by two husband and wife teams: longtime friends Hochman and his wife, Shari, and Lou and Fran Levine. Hochman himself came to the snacks business from the world of commodities trading — swapping yelling on the trading floor to scooping kernels on the convention floor.
"It's different," he said. "It's definitely less stressful — and less yelling."
Earlier this month, William Graham, 25, of Long Island, was halfway through a bag of Better Butter flavor popcorn as he browsed powerboats at the New York Boat Show.
"I haven't had this before, but it smelled so good I had to try it," he said, holding out a handful. "It's good."
In addition to the new Midtown store, Hochman envisions pop-catering for corporate clients, portable stands for street fairs, and even trying out a spot at nearby casinos so gamblers can snack while they play blackjack or poker.
"The fact is, it's fresh, it's delicious, it's easy to eat and walk around with, and it lasts a long time," Hochman said.
Adventurous poppers can also mix as many flavors as they want in a bag, leading to some odd flavor combinations that Hochman has experimented with. His favorite? A mix of Better Butter and Sinfully Cinnamon.
"It tastes like french toast," he said.