It was an ordinary day. I had been waiting for this day for quite some time. Story started the end of last summer when I made a trip to Mt. Joy, Pennsylvania to see the classic cars that were on display down the main street of the town. Grabbed my camera and notepad and headed to this small town located about 13 miles to the west of Lancaster, PA. I was still in recovery mode from back surgery and a bout of shingles in my leg that I suffered a month before, so I tried to find a parking place as close as I could to Main St. Drove to the far west end of Mt. Joy and found my way into the parking lot of a church that was directly in front of a building that had a huge mural painted on it that proclaimed it to be the "Reist Popcorn Co." Wow, a popcorn company right here in the center of Lancaster County. You know, I shouldn't have been surprised, since Lancaster has many small businesses related to farm products from livestock to produce, since we are called the "Garden Spot of America" for heaven's sake. I made a record in my notebook to contact the Reist Company and see if I could make a visit to write a story about the place. Received a prompt return email from Dave Reist telling me that I had chosen their busiest time of the year and could I make a visit in the winter. Well, the winter is coming to an end according to Octorara Annie, the teller of Groundhog day predictions, and I have just returned from my visit with one of the nicest business owners in Lancaster. Dave Reist is the owner of the Reist Popcorn Co., following his grandfather Alvin and father Henry as the head of the family business. The company was founded in 1925 as a seed mill on East Main St. and was relocated in 1937 to the current building along Manheim Street, a half-block off of Main. Dave is a very personable guy and answers my questions with a smile on his face as wide as an ear of corn. I noticed the many articles framed and hanging on the wall of his office and realize that he has been answering the same questions many times over. I tried to act as if I knew something about farming, since I grew up in Lancaster County, as he did, but I suspect my questions were as repetitive as those before me. A few things I did find out that were interesting were:
- There are five employees in his entire business.
- Popcorn has more protein in it that other types of corn.
- The hard outer shell of popcorn keeps the moisture inside the kernel better than other types of corn.
- There are different types of popcorn such as Butterfly which is the fluffy movie-theatre type, Mushroom which is more a balled popcorn which would be good for chocolate or caramel coating since it doesn't break as easy as the Butterfly; and White popcorn which is ...... well, White and smaller and more tender.
- They have only about 5-8% waste in the production of their popcorn from farmer's fields to their customers.
- The corn they receive in their plant has already been husked and field shelled.
- Reist Company started to specialze in only popcorn in the late 1980s and changed their name to Reist Popocorn Co. in 2001.
- The majority of their corn is grown in Ohio, but they still have local growers of popcorn in Lancaster and York Counties as well as a few other states closeby.
- Local companies such as Utz, Martin's and Herr's, which is a world-wide distributor of snack products, buys their popcorn from Reist Popcorn Company.
- One of the by-products of the production of the popcorn is bird-seed.
- Their product is transported to their customers by a fleet of trucks they have, but the corn that comes into their company travels by rail.
- The corn is usually harvested from October to November.
- When the moisture content of the corn is 16-18%, it is harvested and Reist Popcorn dries it to about 14% before they process it. If preserved correctly it can last for years after production. This is in comparison to the corn-on-the-cob which we eat that has 30-35% moisture.
- Their plant is extremely clean and free of debris and for the size of the equipment being used, fairly quiet.
- The large white cloth bags of popcorn that are collected from the optical scanner usually weigh in the neighborhood of 2,000 pounds. They are moved around the plant with a tow motor.
OK, now for one or two more items before I start to post the photos I took while on my visit. Dave told me they really don't have a slow season and the popcorn that was being processed the day I was there had recently come by rail to his factory from Ohio. The railroad siding in a short distance to the west of the processing building. Once the kernels are unloaded from the rail cars it is placed in trucks for delivery to the processing building. The thing that effects their business the most is the weather and the the drought that we experienced in the U.S. last summer really had an impact on his business. He must plan accordingly with his suppliers to keep the product as current as he can. My visit was extremely informative and enjoyable, made that way by my host Dave Reist. It was an extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy. PS - Photos of my visit will follow tomorrow with the best explanation I could muster of what you may be seeing. Any mistakes in the story are truly from the author.