Photos by Joshua Berry
The tantalizing aroma of buttery popcorn envelops visitors the minute they walk through the door of Zion Gourmet Popcorn on Madison’s Main Street.
With 11 melt-in-your-mouth flavors of delicious air-popped popcorn, guests are almost sure to find the perfect sweet Valentine’s Day gift – or anytime treat – at Sandra Polk’s family-run shop. She and her son, William, run the business that boasts shelves of handmade treats – candied apples, chocolate-covered apples, fudge and cotton candy – in addition to the range of popcorn flavors.
Zion Gourmet Popcorn is reminiscent of a 20th-century ice cream parlor, with colorful tables and chairs both inside and outside the shop. Guests can enjoy their goodies at the shop or take them to go and browse through the unique shops on Main Street. Online ordering is also available.
All of the confections are made in-house with all-natural ingredients. “We use real natural butter, brown sugar and other natural ingredients in the making of our caramel popcorn,” Polk said. “Our cheese popcorn is made with real cheese.” The caramel popcorn is Polk’s original recipe. She invented her other treats from recipes she has collected and tweaked over the years, as her love of gourmet popcorn began years ago.
“My brother-in-law and my sister from Ocean Springs, Miss., first introduced me to gourmet popcorn,” Polk said. “We went to the mall in Biloxi to get some cheese popcorn. It was so delicious. I love cheese popcorn. I can never get enough. There’s nothing like the aroma of delicious fresh air-popped popcorn being popped with no oil.”
Polk said in 2011, God gave her the vision to start her own popcorn shop. About the same time, a gourmet popcorn shop opened in Huntsville, so Polk and her husband decided to wait on opening their own shop to support the new venture in Huntsville.
When the idea for opening a shop began weighing heavily on Polk’s mind again – so much so that she said she didn’t sleep for months – Polk’s mother promised to help her bag the popcorn if Polk would take the leap of faith. Before following through on her offer, Polk’s mother passed away, but Polk was determined to press on with her dream.
From August 2015 to January 2016, Polk began selling her popcorn at the Limestone Flea Market. She named her business after one of her granddaughters, Zion. She was also inspired by the hymn, “We’re Marching to Zion.”
Polk later operated out of a trailer her son found on a road near Harvest. The owner agreed to paint it and sell it to her. Polk cleaned the trailer, parked it in Harvest and began selling her goods from there.
The shop at 104 Main Street became available in 2018 when the previous renter and Polk’s good friend decided to move to California to live near her new grandchild. Zion Gourmet Popcorn has been open on Main Street since August 2018. To ensure that her customers experience 100 percent satisfaction, Polk offers free samples of fudge, gelato and popcorn in the shop.
The business’ core values stem from the Biblical passage in Galatians 5:22-23 that names the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. In accordance with these values, Zion Gourmet Popcorn supports local school-age students by donating pencils. With a master’s degree in education and a long career of teaching third- and fourth-graders, “I know the importance of having a pencil,” Polk said.
Children who enter the shop are often in awe of the small train that runs on the tracks attached to the shop’s ceiling. They also like pressing the “yes” button whenever they find a sample of gelato, fudge or popcorn they like best.
Each month, Zion Gourmet Popcorn draws a name from its “Smiling Face Bank” to give away a two-gallon container of popcorn. “We have a fun shop,” Polk said.
“I am very grateful to the Merchants on Main Street and Martin Street for their encouraging words and for sending customers to me,” she added. “The customers at Zion Gourmet Popcorn are the best. I appreciate their patience and their faith in our products.” To order online or for more information, visit www.zionpopcorn.com.