Aged to Perfection
Pop Art
Bottling Up Success
Edible Art
Pop Art: Clary's Popcorn Crafts Creativity  
Shira Nanus

It’s a beautiful Wednesday morning in Madison, and State Street is buzzing with the excitement of a new day. Ken Clary, owner of Clary’s Old Fashioned Gourmet Popcorn, has already started heating up the kettle at his 105 State Street location. Shortly after pouring the essential ingredients—½ cup of oil, salt and the kernels—the sounds and smells of fresh white popcorn fills the store. As the popcorn begins to spill over the sides of the kettle, the warm aroma of light butter and a pinch of salt wafts onto the block, triggering the taste buds of passersby on their way to work.

It isn’t long before the first customer of the day enters. Clary, a middle-aged man whose warm smile shows the years of friendly customer interaction, reaches for a medium size bag and fills it up with the light, white popcorn with extra butter.

“Did I guess right?” Clary asked.

“Of course,” the customer responded, briefcase in hand. Perhaps on his way to work, the customer is already devouring mouthfuls of Clary’s crisp popcorn, popped to perfection—a few moments of pure bliss.

Matthew Wisniewski/Curb
Owner Ken Clary and his daugher at the 105 State Street location. Click on the image to view photo gallery.

Clary has been popping in the 100-block of State Street for nearly 14 years. The store's first location was in McFarland; a year later, Clary moved to Madison on West Mifflin Street. Business wasn’t great, but when Clary was presented with a location on State Street, he thought he’d give popcorn one last try.

“I was coming in on a prayer here, trying to keep my head above water,” Clary said. “I was 100 steps from this door to that door, and it was like day and night. I was off the beaten path there, so it meant a lot to get on this street.”

Clary’s continuous desire to serve Madison locals his invigorating and unique tastes of popcorn has kept his State Street locations, a second at 511 State St. run by Anette Pfeiffer, bustling with excited customers every day.

So, what is it about Clary’s popcorn that makes people continuously come back for more? For starters, anyone who has tried the delectable treat will vouch that its flavor and freshness make the popcorn a mouth-watering addiction. Clary has put years of suggestions and experimentation into improving the flavor of his popcorn varieties, all of them from-scratch recipes. It all started with the kernel: Clary visited the local corn wholesaler, Badger Popcorn, and chose a hybrid white hull kernel, which produces light, fluffy white popcorn. Badger Popcorn delivers about 20 bags of kernels a week—1,000 pounds a month—making Clary’s white popcorn his number one seller. Clary said white is by far his biggest product—“Just like ice cream, vanilla’s the biggest seller. I think it's true here, too.”

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