Poppin Squeeze & Poppin Minis
Colorful flags on tall posts announce kettle corn and lemonade, and the smell of freshly cooked donuts makes its way to customers on the morning breeze, leading to the Poppin Minis truck. On a recent Saturday, a line of shoppers were queued up, waiting for their mini donuts, cooked fresh to order.
“We do our best to keep the line moving, but I know some folks have to wait for a while,” co-owner Sharon Fergison said. “When I apologize for their wait, they tell me it’s worth it.”
Sharon adds that at the Farmer’s Market and other events, many customers come just to visit their truck.
“We have our regulars, just like any restaurant,” she said, “folks who drive up and come to our truck, then leave. They’re there to see us. It’s nice to have a product that people really want.”
So what’s so special about Poppin Minis? For one thing, you can’t get a fresher donut anywhere. Poppin Minis doesn’t cook a batch ahead of time and sell them, they actually cook the donuts for folks as they wait, with a Lil’ Orbits donut maker. It’s fun to watch the donuts bob up in the oil and then roll along a conveyor belt into the waiting cinnamon and sugar.
The idea originally came from a visit to the Mall of Minnesota. Donut trucks are popular up north, but they’re much less common in the midwest.
“What we’re doing is unique in this area,” Sharon said. “Our donuts are hot, fresh, right out of the machine and into your hands. People say they melt in your mouth.”
I can confirm. My daughter and I agreed that we had never had a tastier donut.
What is Poppin’ Squeeze?
Poppin Squeeze and Poppin Minis together mean kettle corn, lemonade, and donuts—all made fresh. Kettle corn is popped daily, lemonade is squeezed on the spot when ordered, and donuts cook right in front of hungry customers. The big red Poppin Squeeze truck and the Poppin Minis donut truck sets up around town, at the Farmer’s Market, and at festivals, a totally mobile business. It all started with a 10-year-old’s question to his grandpa.
In 2011, Richard and Sharon Fergison’s grandson, Christopher, asked Richard where he could find a job. Richard thought it over and then suggested that the two start their own business, and Christopher enthusiastically agreed. Another grandchild, Aaron, also came on board, and the family did their research. They decided to open a hot dog stand, and decided on the name Super Dogs. After a year in business, Christopher had to move, but Richard, Sharon, and Aaron kept the business going. About 18 months in, sales weren’t as good as they should be, so the team decided to add lemonade. At first, they made gallons the night before, then in 2013 they decided to purchase a cart that would allow them to squeeze lemonade fresh to order, right in front of the customer. That same year, they added fresh-popped kettle corn to their line-up, and sales took off. After a while, it became clear that the lemonade and kettle corn were much more popular than the hot dogs, so the family regrouped, decided to sunset the hot dog cart, and rebranded as Poppin Squeeze.
In 2016 the family decided that it was time to expand again, this time by investing in a custom trailer to house their mobile business. After 4 months of planning and building, the 35-foot goose-neck trailer, known affectionately as Big Reds was ready, and it quickly a hallmark of their business. In 2017 the family decided to expand into mini donuts, so they added a smaller food trailer, known as Lil’ Blue, to the fleet, and added Poppin Minis as another branch of their family-owned business.
Richard and Sharon Fergison are not new to business ownership, but their previous cafe was a brick and mortar location in Atchison. The two agree that they prefer the food truck business.
“It’s flexible,” Richard said. “You have to be there every single day with a brick and mortar, but with the food truck we don’t have to do it unless we want to. Yesterday I went to work in the morning, and then decided to take the afternoon off.”
“It costs less, too,” Sharon said. “You still have utilities, taxes, and maintenance, but they’re so much less on the vehicles. It just works better for us.”
Richard explained that the business has to pay for a permit each year, about $300, which allows them to park anywhere that is zoned for business.
“We can move around, try different locations to meet demand,” Richard said. “We used to set up downtown, for instance, but when KanCare moved to Forbes, we followed along with our regulars and began setting up out there.”
Being mobile also allows the business to bring fresh goods to sites on request.
“Companies call us to come out and give donuts to their employees,” Richard said, “Advisors Excel is one, and they sometimes ask us to bring our truck over to Topeka high to treat the kids, too.”
Richard runs social media for Poppin Squeeze, and he makes sure to update the page early every day to let customers know where they can find the truck. The business also helps promote events that they’ll be taking part in, such as the Chocolate Festival, or food truck festivals.
Kettle corn customers will notice that the blue raspberry and pink vanilla kettle corn features a picture of a smiling baby, below the words “$2 of each bag sold goes to SIDS research. In Memory of Luke Steinle.” Sharon says there is a story behind the special corn. After 30 years in daycare service, caring for children of many ages, a baby passed away while in Sharon’s care. Her voice trembles when she talks about Luke.
“30 years, and never an injury,” she said. “It was so terrible. I couldn’t go on with daycare after that. SIDS is a terrible thing.”
With the proceeds from the sales of Lukes popcorn, they give back in a small way.
The couple also takes their truck out to the Topeka Rescue Mission once a year to set up and give out free donuts to anyone who wants them.
“Recently a man approached me at a festival,” Richard said, “and told me that he remembered our truck visiting while he had been staying at the mission for a while. He said that it had been a bright spot in a really hard year, and he was so thankful that we did that. I’m happy that we could lighten someone’s day, just for a moment.”
Sharon just catered her first wedding with donuts and a variety of toppings, such as strawberries and whipped cream. The couple plans to continue to seek out new locations, participate in festivals, and expand their private events business. If you’re interested in catering your private event with something special and unexpected, you can count on the Fergisons to deliver quality, with heart.
You can read more about Poppin Squeeze, see a slideshow of the Big Red trailer being built, and find contact info at: https://www.poppinsqueeze.com/
Follow Poppin Squeeze on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/poppinsqueezepoppinminis/