Thatcher’s Gourmet Popcorn has been cooking Popcorn in San Francisco since 1983. Their gourmet recipes are all made in small batches to preserve freshness and quality, either under the Thatcher’s brand or acting as contract manufacturers for many others, and shipped both locally and internationally from their factory in the Dogpatch neighborhood.

Thatcher’s Popcorn believes that their location in San Francisco and their tight-knit staff are key to their success. The company has been relying on its employee community to find new hires, making the process easier and ensuring a familial atmosphere. In turn, this also results in low employee turnover, helping the company benefit from a dedicated, qualified workforce.

SFMade interviewed Thatcher’s President, Abe Aboukhalil, in April 2019.

COMPANY FACTSHEET Thatcher’s Gourmet Specialties, Inc.
Full-time employees 35
Part-time employees 15
Founded in 1983
Useful links Website, Instagram, Facebook

 

From left to right, Thatcher’s Gourmet Popcorn’s owners Amal and Abe Aboukhalil. Amal also runs a gift bag business, The Gifted Basked San Francisco, from the same building.

 

How did the company get started?
The Company started 36 years ago, in 1983. At first it was a small retail store, quickly growing to three locations. Fast forward to 18 years ago when the company moved to a larger production space and started selling wholesale, then growing steadily to our current state with 35 full-time employees and our 22,000 square feet facility in the heart of the Dogpatch.

 

Abe, what is your background, and how did you join Thatcher’s?
My background is in sales, in running companies and being an entrepreneur. I sold my previous company – a car dealership – after 27 years, and I was looking for something new and exciting.

At the time, a friend of mine owned Thatcher’s and was looking to retire. I saw the vision and potential, and it was also a perfect opportunity and timing! I acquired the company in June 2018.

Popcorn is air popped almost continuously throughout the day.

Corn (bottom right) is air popped and then shortly stored in large bags (left) before being coated or packaged.

 

Can you tell us more about your business in a few facts and numbers?
We make about 2 million bags and tubs of popcorn every year, with 32 flavors to choose from. We also act as copackers for a few Fortune 500 companies.

You can find Thatcher’s Popcorn in most hotels and gourmet stores all over the USA, Japan and Europe. We have over 250 clients worldwide, and our main clients are Burlington Coat Factory, Ross Stores and TJ Maxx.

Simple ingredients are ready to be cooked (for example, into caramel – the best selling flavor!) before coating the air-popped popcorn into a finished and delicious product.

One of the four large kettles in which recipes are cooked. Once ready and still hot, popcorn is added in and coated.

 

What are your company’s core values?
We want to be a good company to work for! We are very proud of our workforce: we have 35 full-time employees now and hope to hire 5 more people in the next 12 months. We are lucky to have a long-time, very dedicated and hard-working staff, with a very low turnover. It is a tight-knit community I am very happy with. Our employees know each other well, and they are also the first ones we tell about hiring needs, as most new hires come from our existing staff’s communities.

We offer ongoing training to make sure everyone is up to date with the fast-evolving rules of the food industry, and we also keep creating new recipes constantly, sometimes with the help of our staff.

The kettle tilts and hot popcorn is taken into the cooling tunnel (right).

Air coming from under is cooling the hot popcorn while it travels slowly through the tunnel screw.

 

What does the future hold?
I am seeing lots of growth potential – a good sign for a new company owner! [laughs]
I want to try to automate one of most repetitive steps – bagging, so the employees can focus more time on value-added parts of the process and on custom orders. And my main focus (also the sales team’s) will be on adding new accounts.

 

Why manufacture locally?
Thatcher’s has been a San Francisco-based company since the beginning, and we don’t see that changing anytime soon. We are proud to be a San Francisco brand, and it is also part of our core branding; we display it on all our labels.

The cool, finished product is then fed in a hopper and bagged, then boxed.

Some products require additional customization steps – here, ribbons tied to every bag.

 

How has SFMade been most valuable to the growth of your business?
I have only been with Thatcher’s for nine months and I chose to become more engaged and to join the Accelerator program, as I believe the community of peers will be a great learning experience and a way to create more partnerships. I also would like to start utilizing SFMade’s resources more, for example getting a summer intern and more in-depth advising using some of the experts available.

 

For a complete tour of the factory, you can also check out Thatcher’s recent promo video.

 

~An interview by Pierre @ SFMade. Thank you Abe!