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Willy Wonka meets corn 

click to enlarge SOME POP IN YOUR LIFE :  Get your cotton candy and gourmet popcorn fix in downtown SLO. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • SOME POP IN YOUR LIFE : Get your cotton candy and gourmet popcorn fix in downtown SLO.

Tricia Harbour and her family left her gourmet popcorn shop, SLO Pop, and headed to their stations during a recent Thursday Farmer’s Market in downtown SLO. Tricia Harbour made the cotton candy with her 1-year-old strapped to her chest while her 11-year-old son watched his 3-year-old brother. Her husband made the kettle corn and the 13-year-old son bagged and sold it while their eldest (16) took the money.

“It’s definitely a family affair, but I think that’s my favorite part of the whole thing,” Tricia said.

SLO Pop offers 15 flavors of cotton candy, from piña colada to bubblegum, and the popcorn flavors are seemingly endless. Most of the taste testing is done in Harbour’s home with her five sons and husband. She experiments with seasonings to come up with her own flavors or to match candy bars and other foods. Some premium flavors have included bacon cheddar, pumpkin spice, and cotton candy.

“Any time I go to the grocery store, the dollar store, anywhere I go, I’m always looking for new spices or seasonings, extracts, colorings, whatever I can do to be creative with it,” Tricia said.

She bought her first cotton candy machine about four years ago and began attending shows and festivals. She added regular buttered popcorn three years ago and expanded to gourmet flavored popcorn and kettle corn last year before renting a store.

“We had to keep referring them to, you know, ‘We’ll be at this festival next’ or ‘We’ll be downtown in this show,’ and we figured we turned away enough people that OK, maybe there is a market to sustain a store,” Tricia explained.

A 40-pound bag of mushroom corn costs Tricia $50, and a 20-pound bag of butterfly corn costs $30. The butterfly corn, commonly used in movie theaters, has nooks that better hold seasonings, whereas the mushroom corn’s rounded shape is easier for glazes to attach to. Though she splits the store rent with her mother, Tricia said she pays almost $100 in gas every couple of weeks to pick up the mushroom corn from the closest distributor three hours away. The butterfly corn is bought locally.

Tricia said their profits from a farmer’s market or festival range from $200 to $2,500, depending on such factors as the weather and crowd size. She sells more than 100 bags each of kettle corn and cotton candy and about 75 bags of flavored corn in a four-hour span. When asked how much she sells at festivals, which sometimes last for several hours across two days, Tricia just laughed.

“You have to work really hard for that $2 to $3 bag of product,” she said. “It’s a lot of little cells to accumulate, but it’s fun.”

    SLO Pop also rents out the cotton candy machine and kettle corn crisper for parties, or the Harbours will come out to an event. They’ve provided popcorn for weddings, church events, and school functions. The store is still a work in progress, but hours of operation are Tuesdays to Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“My favorite thing to do on a weekend is to come down here and sell because [of] the faces people have when they see it all and taste it,” said Noah Harbour, Tricia’s 11-year-old son. “I love how everybody is so excited to come in, and I just love this store.”

   The store, at 950 Chorro St. in San Luis Obispo, also hosts Cutie Pie, a children’s clothing and accessories store owned by Harbour’s mother, Patricia Spinks. Spinks said it was only natural for her to start Cutie Pie because of her grandchildren.

Tricia wants to add a gourmet lemonade bar with the popcorn and cotton candy, offering such flavors as strawberry basil or brown sugar peach. She eventually wants to move SLO Pop closer to Higuera Street, with the continued support from her family.

“I think that’s the key to life,” Tricia said. “It’s just finding something that you enjoy doing, figuring out how to make money at it, and if you get to have your children close to you as you’re doing it, that’s a bonus.”


Fast fact

If you’re looking for a cheap ride to the beach, consider catching a bus. Regional Transit Authority is now operating a service to Morro Bay and Cayucos from Paso Robles, Templeton, and Atascadero. The trip costs $3, though there will be no service on July 4 and the RTA is only offering the trip until Aug. 24. For more information, and schedules, visit 

Intern Alicia Canales compiled this week’s Strokes & Plugs. Send your business and nonprofit news to [email protected].

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