Almost Famous Popcorn is Popping in Sac City, Iowa
21 Jul 2022
In March 2022, Almost Famous Popcorn Company announced the acquisition of Sac City-based Noble Popcorn. The Sac City, Iowa, facility — branded as Cedar Creek Popcorn — expands its store footprint beyond the NewBo District in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines.
“In the summer of 2021, we were facing capacity issues,” said Bill Rieckhoff, General Manager, Cedar Creek Popcorn and Almost Famous Popcorn. “We reached out to the venerable Noble Popcorn Company of Sac City, Iowa, to see if they could help. The Lines Family not only was able to help but looking for a buyer to add new energy to their business that had been going strong and growing for 45 years. The business was the perfect ‘fit’ for Almost Famous. Noble's scale production complements our small batch production. Ownership transition took place in February of 2022. The name was changed to Cedar Creek Popcorn to align with how the product was sold in the market. Other than that, we haven't changed much.”
Almost Famous Popcorn is a family business through and through: husband and wife, Bill and Robyn Rieckhoff, and their children, Sydney Rieckhoff and Carter Rieckhoff, are all co-owners. “Family businesses are wonderful and complicated,” said Bill. “The four of us share in the business equally. It's important to listen and learn from each other. Our planning sessions are spirited, to say the least. As a 55-year-old, working for my daughter Sydney, our 24-year-old CEO, has been an amazing experience. We made her boss because Sydney is one sharp young lady with a track record of success. Overall, being a part of a family business is rewarding and fun.”
The company is a master class in entrepreneurship. Sydney, a recent Stanford University graduate, launched the beginnings of Almost Famous Popcorn with her little brother, Carter, a decade ago.
“Almost Famous started in the NewBo City Market in October of 2012,” said Bill. There, the children launched popcorn and ice cream stands behind the family farm's vegetable stand. Carter, then 10 years old, started with a 10 ft. x 10 ft. popcorn stand, CR Popcorn, and Sydney, then 14 years old, launched The Chill to serve up ice cream treats.
“Our goal was to teach our kids business basics and entrepreneurial spirit,” said Bill. “After a year and a half in the market, a storefront was available across the street in a historic building — perfect for popcorn and ice cream. As we were working with another popcorn family from Galena, Illinois, we changed our name to Great American Popcorn - Cedar Rapids. Business started to ‘pop,’ and we were named one of the Top Five Popcorn Shops in the USA by travel authority Orbitz.”
“We recognized this could be more than a ‘hobby’ business and started making plans to make this a ‘real’ business,” continued Bill. “As we did not own or control our name, one more rebranding needed to take place — to Almost Famous Popcorn. The origin is that if Garrett's Popcorn (another top five winner) was ‘famous,’ and our popcorn is being recognized as being as good or better than theirs, we would happily settle for ‘almost famous.’”
“Since the rebranding to Almost Famous Popcorn, we have enjoyed rapid growth, leasing a small factory that we have since expanded twice, becoming the popcorn sold at University of Iowa sporting events at Kinnick Stadium and Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and shipping e-commerce orders to every state in the union and Washington, D.C., last year,” said Bill. “Our peak popcorn moment was being selected as the popcorn for the MLB's Field of Dreams game last fall. It is amazing how Sydney and Carter's little stands have developed into an emerging snack food brand.”
Bill reports Almost Famous Popcorn has been honored as one of CBJ's Fastest Growing Companies for four consecutive years. “We attribute our growth to business fundamentals — great product and taking care of people. We know that risk is a part of growth, and we try to take measured risks where we believe we have a good chance of return. Planning is essential for growth, and we've improved in this area in the past couple of years.”
With the Sac City acquisition, Almost Famous Popcorn was passed the torch of the World’s Largest Popcorn Ball. The first 2,225 -pound-record-holding popcorn ball was made in 1995 by Noble Popcorn for the Sac County Fair. While that record didn’t stand forever, Noble Popcorn has stepped up with larger and larger creations to win back the title. Today’s World’s Largest Popcorn Ball, created in 2016, weighs 9,370 pounds, measures 12 feet across, and can be visited at the Sac City Museum & Historic Village.
“How cool is it to be the makers and caretakers of the World's Largest Popcorn Ball?” said Bill. “Pretty darn cool. Every day we get visitors at the plant from all over the country who have come to see ‘the Ball.’ We have a bunch of ideas to make this an even better asset for our community . . . more to come in the summer of 2023.”
“We LOVE Sac City and northwest Iowa,” said Bill. “Sac City is a gem of a community with warm, welcoming people. We have purchased a residence here and are trying to continue the Lines Family's strong support of the community.”
“Sac City and northwest Iowa is a great place to do business. Nothing would please us more than to expand here in a major way, creating new jobs and economic development. Labor is a challenge, but this is not unique to Sac City. We will be an ‘employer of choice’ in the community, and as word spreads about the work environment in our factory, we feel that we will have no trouble attracting great people to join us. Popcorn is a ‘happy’ business; we view a job with us as something that gives you more life and opportunity, not less.”
“The best part of being in the popcorn business is the product testing,” said Bill. “We eat popcorn every day and are always playing around with new recipes. The best part of our business overall is handing someone, anyone, but especially a 4-year-old kid, an ice cream cone. I suggest everyone try this. It is a magical experience.”
“At Almost Famous Popcorn, we create ‘Moments that Pop!’” said Bill. “We appreciate that people have a lot of choices on how to spend their time and money. We focus on flawless delivery of a customer experience. Should someone visit our stores, receive a gift box from an employer or friend, or grab a bag at a Hawkeye game — we want that moment to be special. In turn, tens of thousands of people have been touched by our product and turned into ‘Champions’ for Almost Famous and Cedar Creek. They cheer us on and fuel our fire.”
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