Owners of KingPop and Sheraton Park Farms embrace challenge of starting new businesses

Published 12:10 am Thursday, September 2, 2021

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By Jim Buice
For the Clemmons Courier

Gerald Dickerson has always loved eating popcorn, but he got tired of going to movie theaters and paying astronomical prices.

“I was like, they are charging filet mignon prices,” he said, “so let me do some research and see if I can figure it out.”

Dickerson, a 2017 graduate of N.C. Central University, was working for Wells Fargo and decided to do some popping at home, take it to work and give it away as snacks. And his co-workers really liked it.

“Someone said, ‘You should start a business,’ ” Dickerson said. “I would bring it to work in Ziploc bags, and then I would bring it in tubs, like huge tubs, and by 9 to 10 o’clock, it was all gone. So then I would sell it for $3, and I said, ‘I can do something with this.”

He branched out and starting doing caramel, cheddar cheese, banana pudding, red velvet cake, key lime pie, carrot cake, and the list goes on and on — ultimately deciding to quit his day job and pop corn for a living.

Dickerson, who is married and has two sons — all of whom were with him as he manned a booth a booth with 20 or so other vendors at the Clemmons Farmers Market Saturday morning, got a degree in criminal justice but never has used it.

“I’m not arresting anyone, but I guess I’m arresting your taste buds,” he said with a hearty laugh. “I was going to be going to probation, but having two sons, I didn’t want to do the swing shift thing. It was complicated with day care involved, and I thought I’ll just keep working in the bank.”

That changed when he grew weary of paying top dollar for popcorn at the movies and popping it himself at home. So his new gourmet popcorn business, KingPop, became a reality.

“I’ve been coming here for about a year,” Dickerson said of the Clemmons market. “I’d like to give a big shout out to Ms. Shannon (Ford, director of the farmers market) because this is a good thing here and helped me perfect my craft.

“It was really a launching point to get out here in the community and meet other vendors and people who eat popcorn. This has given me the platform to grow and be more confident in my products and services.”

Dickerson also sells at the farmers market in Mocksville, and his popcorn is available at Marie’s Gift Shop in Kernersville. He is looking to get his product in other stores and gets a lot of orders online.

On a sizzling Saturday morning, he had all the tools of the trade to do his thing while dripping in sweat.

“I do it in a turkey fryer, put the oil in the pot, dump the seeds, add sugar and salt, and start stirring,” Dickerson said, adding it was important to have a temperature of 400 degrees to achieve the shape of the kernel he desires. “After that, you dump it and put it in the bags.”

Besides the traditional movie butter and kettle corn, he enjoys offering his customers a variety of unique flavors and has his own operation at home — unless he’s on location in places like the Clemmons market.

“I mostly do everything from home, but I’m looking to get a food truck, store front or a food trailer soon,” said Dickerson, who begins his day eating popcorn for breakfast while going through emails and checking on orders. “You have your ups and downs. Can you make a living doing this? I will say you’ve got to keep a little bit of the good for when it goes bad. I say eat more popcorn and less chips.”

He has another saying: “Great things start with small beginnings.”

That’s the plan for KingPop.

‘”Hey, you’ve got Krispy Kreme,” Dickerson said. “You might as well have popcorn, too, right?”

• • • • •

With an extensive background in health care, Chuck and Saundra Lewis didn’t know anything about farming.

However, all that changed a few years ago when Saundra did a summer apprenticeship at a butcher shop in West Jefferson. Chuck said that she came home one day and said, ‘You know, I think there’s something to this locally grown ‘know your farmer, know where your food comes from thing.’

“So I got to doing some research, and daggone, she was right,” he said. “About the same time, I was transitioning and taking a job in Raleigh, so we decided we wanted to buy a home with some land and start farming.”

After “learning how to do this through books, seminars and YouTube videos,” they bought a 20-acre farm in Pleasant Garden, which is just south of Greensboro, and started Sheraton Park Farms.

Saundra was a paramedic and MRI technologist for a number of years before starting to help her mom, who is an accountant, while Chuck works for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

“That’s my real job,” he said. “It’s full time. I do this on the side. My wife, she is primarily a full-time farmer. We kept a few bees in the past and just a small garden, nothing like this. This is all brand new.”

Sheraton Park Farms, a regenerative agricultural farm, is a regular vendor each Saturday morning at the Clemmons Farmers Market with a table and coolers of pasture-raised pork, poultry and beef. The farm is free from hormones, chemicals and prophylactic antibiotics.

“Our primary thing is pasture pork. We raise our pigs out on a pasture. We keep them on about three quarters to an acre paddock, and then we move them around every couple of weeks. We do that so that we get good disturbance on the land, but we don’t leave it as a moonscape, so we don’t get a lot of erosion and that kind of thing.

“Pigs are a primary thing, but we also do pasture-raised chicken. In all our chickens, we raise a more of a heritage breed bird. We keep them in a small enclosure, and every day we move that enclosure forward. So every day they come off of their manure on fresh grass where they can scratch around. We don’t use any fossil fuels, no diesel or tractor involved in any of this process. We try to be as environmental as possible.

“We also have some free-range chickens that do eggs. And we partner with another farmer for our grass-fed beef, but pork is the big thing. We’ve been doing this since 2018. We’ve seen a lot of positive growth year over year.”

Lewis said that they have been able to establish a nice, recurring customer base “who do a lot of their grocery shopping with us.” In their first year, they started out doing the High Point Farmers Market, where they have built a strong clientele, and Sheraton Park Farms came to Clemmons last September to expand its footprint.

“The folks in Clemmons have been wonderful and really supported us,” Lewis said. “The location here is fantastic. Besides here and High Point, we sell direct from the farm, so if folks want to come out and see the animals, we’re an open book. We’d love to have visitors come out to see how we do things and pick up stuff right there.”

They are in the process of moving after recently buying a 70-acre farm just outside of North Wilkesboro. They will be closing on the much larger tract soon, but Sheraton Park Farms will continue to maintain its booth at the Clemmons Farmers Market.

“To move yourself and a household is one thing, but to move a farm and a bunch of animals, I really need a project manager to help me do all that,” Lewis said with a laugh.

The extra space will offer the opportunity to add cattle on the new farm and, of course, beef to the offerings — along with more room for chickens while also expanding the pork operation.

Lewis said that current best sellers would probably be pork chops and pork tenderloins, or steaks.

“Whenever we process a beef, we usually pick up it up from the butcher on Thursday and by Saturday afternoon our steaks are gone,” he said.

As for processing, Lewis said that the N.C. Department of Agriculture “will allow us to do up to 20,000 chickens or poultry on our farm. Since we sell to the public, all of our red meats, our pork, our beef, if we were doing lamb or goat something like that, that has to be done in a USDA-inspected facility, so we use Piedmont Custom Meats in Asheboro. They are our preferred processor.”

As for the future, Lewis said that the farming venture has been a good one and that he wouldn’t mind joining his wife full time himself.

“I’d like to,” he said. “Being able to get up and just walk out your door and walk to work every morning and everything be there, that would be great.”

• • •

The Clemmons Farmers Market is open seasonally on Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Jerry Long Family YMCA at 1150 S. Peace Haven Road in Clemmons (located in the open field at the intersection of S. Peace Haven Road and Jessie Village Drive). This year’s market will run through Oct. 23.

“There’s never been a more important time to support your local farmers, small business owners and producers with such an open and safe shopping destination,” said Shannon Ford, the longtime marketing/communication director for the village who is market manager. “We are thrilled to provide this venue to make meaningful connections between the farmers who grow the food we eat and the communities who support them. Every purchase truly makes a difference.”

For more information:

• Shannon Ford, 336-766-7511, sford@clemmons.org

• KingPop, kingpopws.com

• Sheraton Park Farms, sheratonparkfarms.com