While Carroll’s Corn will keep popping in Rochester’s downtown, its outgoing founder, Pat Carroll, is retiring after 28 years of chatting up customers and selling bags of his famous Triple Mix popcorn.
Carroll, who started the business in 1993, has handed off Carroll’s Corn to Seamus Kolb, who started at the popcorn shop at the age of 15. He took over ownership at the start of 2021.
The only thing that's changing at Carroll’s Corn is that Pat Carroll will no longer be there to greet Mayo Clinic staff, patients and other longtime customers. He will be spending his time on the slopes of Coffee Mill Ski Area or on the banks of the Mississippi River in Wabasha, though he will probably visit the popular shop in the Kahler Hotel subway once in a while.
“If there’s a time to do it (walk away from the business) and feel comfortable, this is the time to do it,” he said on Tuesday, which was, coincidentally, National Popcorn Day. “I know I’m leaving it in good hands.”
While his varieties of gourmet popcorn have attracted customers to his shop for many years, he says the “magic ingredient” to the success of Carroll’s Corn has been customer service. He and his staff try to greet customers as they walk through the door. If you are wearing a name badge or are a regular, they greet you by name.
“There have been a lot of great, great relationships. Not only with local Mayo employees, but with people from around the country and around the world,” Carroll said. “They come in looking for a piece of normalcy. … We give them that little escape. Make them feel special."
Looking back to 1993, Carroll’s Corn almost didn’t happen.
After being laid off from his job as a swim coach, Carroll started thinking about opening a business. The possibilities were a VHS movie rental place, a sub shop, or a popcorn store. His limited capital made popcorn his best choice.
Carroll borrowed money from two of his roommates from college and went looking for a spot in downtown Rochester. He was rejected at his first stop at the Kahler Hotel. The manager of the Galleria Mall also wasn’t impressed with the idea of popcorn.
However, a dejected Carroll ran into a friend, Steve Seymour, on his way out of the Galleria’s offices. Seymour turned him around and pushed him into the office of the mall owner, Gus Chafoulias.
“Gus said, ‘I love popcorn. Let’s do it.' No business plan or anything. He just made it happen,” Carroll recalls.
That led to Carroll’s Corn opening on Feb. 11, 1993, in the subway of the U.S. Bank building, another Chafoulias building. After more than a year there, the shop moved to Breckenridge Skyway for 11 years. Eventually, it settled into a subway spot under the Kahler Hotel stairs.
“We broke the rule of ‘Location, location, location.’ People found us and made us a destination,” Carroll said.
Carroll is known for not being shy about his opinions. He has been a big proponent of downtown Rochester, as well as a critic of moves that he didn’t believe would benefit the community.
He is optimistic that Mayo Clinic’s Destination Medical Center initiative will eventually pay off for the city, though he’s worried about how the changes are making it harder for people to come downtown to do business.
“Once DMC is finished, I hope we have more than trees and parks in downtown,” Carroll said. “While things like Thursdays on First and SocialICE are great, I think there needs to be an attraction, like a museum or an aquarium, to get people downtown.”
The pandemic has sent many downtown workers to home offices, but he’s hopeful most will come back. COVID-19 pushed the shop that counted on foot traffic to find new ways of doing business. Carroll’s Corn can now be found on the shelves of many Hy-Vee grocery stores and at Scheels in Apache Mall.
“That has been a lifesaver,” Carroll said.
As the new owner, Kolb hopes to keep things popping like Carroll did, with an eye to the future.
“We’re still rocking," he said. "The vibe will stay the same.”
However, a new website will launch soon that will give customers more ways of getting Carroll’s Corn, either through curbside pickup or delivery. Eventually, Kolb would also like to add a mobile aspect to the business.
Looking back, Carroll is pleased and a little amazed that his idea for a popcorn shop has done so well for so long.
“I’ve been really, really lucky for a guy without any experience or even a business degree,” he said. “Through all of the ups and downs, I’ve always looked on the bright side. I’ve appreciated all of the great help that I have had over the years. That has made a big difference.”