“Everything happens for a reason, I truly believe that,” says Tim Angel, a professor of health sciences at Shawnee State University, part owner of local landmark restaurant Patsy’s Inn and now one of the driving forces behind what is inarguably one of the most unique shops to open in Portsmouth in quite some time.
Named for and run primarily by son Jethro “Jet” Jenkins, the shelves of Angel’s undertaking in Portsmouth Square on 11th Street are lined with bags of confections tinged in flavors ranging from the predictable, such as old-fashioned caramel, to highly original concoctions such as creamy dill, ghost pepper, buffalo breath and Mediterranean, the latter described by Jenkins as utilizing a combination of garlic and herbs. The various flavors complement the fresh popcorn, all prepared on site at Jet’s Gourmet Popcorn.
Having held its grand opening two weeks ago, the shop also features homemade cookies and pastries as well as candies. But popcorn is the star.
In addition to the flavors already mentioned, popcorn varieties available include sweet flavors, such as vanilla bean, kettle corn and bubble gum, and various fruit flavors, such as green apple, grape, lemon, banana and cherry. Other savory flavors include cheddar, white cheddar, salt and vinegar, barbecue, Cajun and many more. All in all, Jenkins says the store currently has about 40 flavors, with more on the way. Carmel has been far and away the best seller, Jenkins says.
How exactly does one come up with dill pickle-flavored popcorn (which, incidentally, this writer says doesn’t taste anywhere near as bad or odd as it might sound, and is Jenkins’ professed favorite)?
“It’s not what you’d expect. It has a very light flavor, and it’s kind of addicting,” Jenkins reveals. “To me, it’s kind of like potato chips. I could eat it all day long.”
Getting back to all those other flavors, Jenkins says the creations are a team effort among himself, his dad and Rob Hess, a long-time friend of Jenkins and, for now, the popcorn shop’s only other employee. Jenkins says somebody comes up with an idea for a flavor, and the trio puts their heads together and to find a way to make it work. While some of their efforts are clearly quite unique, Jenkins claims there have been no misfires so far, no attempts at new flavors that just went totally awry.
“Once you kinda know what you’re doing, you can experiment and be fairly safe. There have been no catastrophes so far,” Jenkins says. Angel talked about being up most of the previous night working on recipes for new flavors. “It’s a lot of research,” he admits, “a lot of trial and error.”
Angel says he trained as a chocolatier some 15 years ago. “I just got interested in chocolate sometime ago,” he adds. At one time, Angel and a relative planned to start a chocolate shop in their native Portsmouth. In the end, both parties got jobs out of town, and the chocolate shop idea just sort of fell apart. But Angel never really gave up on cooking. Besides being involved with Patsy’s Inn, Angel was selling cookies and other goodies for fundraisers, especially hospital fundraisers, and at festivals and such. He and his son say they were approached numerous times about when they were going to open an actual store.
“We were worried that a brick-and-mortar store wouldn’t be viable, especially in a small town like this,” Jenkins admits. Nevertheless, he and his father decided they just had to take the plunge. So far, father and son say things are going rather well. Angel says the shop was swamped around the recent Easter holiday, which he says was a bit of a surprise to him. When the shop opened one morning recently, as Jenkins told his story for the article you’re reading, the shop seemed to have no shortage of visitors. One customer said she was making a return trip, coming across the river from Kentucky just to visit the store. Sharon Boggs walked out with several bags of corn, including a bag of buffalo breath, one of the spicier varieties.
“The caramel corn is out of this world,” Boggs proclaims.
While he says he fully expects sales to flatten out — every business has that experience, he contends — Angel wants to thank the public for its support.
“They’ve really gotten behind us,” he says.
Angel further talks about what he called premium specialty flavors still to come to at Jet’s, varities such as chocolate truffle and birthday cake, the latter featuring white chocolate and sprinkles. Angel adds he and his son pay attention to customer feedback in person and on their Facebook page. Angel says one customer believes a pink lemonade popcorn might be perfect for summer time, adding a willingness to give it a shot.
Cookies and pastries for the popcorn shop are all made at Patsy’s Inn. Jenkins says they currently buy chocolates for the shop, but the plan is to eventually make them themselves. While he has a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from SSU, Jenkins says he has always had an entrepreneurial side and plans to stay the course with the popcorn store.
Hess seems happy with the shop as well. “It’s been a lot of hours in here, but I love it,” he says.
“Who knows? Maybe I’ll spend my retirement making popcorn,” Angel says.