Two popcorn legacies
De-lish-us has new owner
By Robert Cloud
The owner of the oldest popcorn shop in Illinois has purchased a Waupaca snack company that dates back 87 years.
Kemper Wilcut II took the helm at De-lish-us Popcorn from Jim and Jeff Hollnbecher on Aug. 15.
He owns Del’s Popcorn Shop in Decatur.
Both businesses trace their origins to the Great Depression, when popcorn was an easily affordable snack.
In 1932, Marie Hollnbacher and her two sons, Victor and Fred, started American Popcorn Co.
They popped the popcorn at their home and delivered it by bike or on foot to taverns and ballparks.
They expanded their product line to include potato chips and moved to Waupaca in 1943 to be closer to a better source of potatoes.
In 1983, Jim and Jeff Hollnbecher took over the operations of De-lish-us Popcorn.
After a lifetime in the business, they have decided to retire.
Del’s Popcorn Shop
In 1934, John Baldwin opened The Popcorn Shop on Merchant Street in Decatur.
The aroma of fresh popcorn lured in customers. Over time the shop became a downtown landmark.
In 1946, Del and Emily Barnett purchased the business and changed its name to Del’s Popcorn Shop.
Wilcut, who moved to Decatur when he was in the third grade, is a restaurant entrepreneur.
He owned Tater’s Family Grill in Decatur and four Bellisina’s in Peoria and Springfield.
In 2009, Wilcut and his wife Jesica purchased Dels’ Popcorn Shop.
“I have worked for myself my entire life,” Wilcut said. “I don’t think anyone else would put up with me.”
Del’s Popcorn Shop is located in a three-story brick building that dates back to 1854.
Inside the shop, one may purchase fresh popcorn, caramel corn and cheese corn.
There are also roasted nuts, fudge, candies and caramel apples.
Wilcut opened a second store at the Hickory Point Mall in Forsyth, Illinois.
In April 2015, a fire caused severe structural and smoke damage during one of the shop’s busiest seasons.
The Merchant Street shop was closed for 18 months, and plans for future growth were put on hold.
“We’re back up to full tilt right now,” Wilcut said. “Prior to the fire, I was trying to open a facility similar to this (De-lish-us).”
Wilcut said he met the Hollnbachers through a mutual friend.
“I was looking to expand into more wholesale distributing,” he said.
He plans to increase the product line and start feeding some of the De-lish-us products into his retail stores.
“I plan on opening the retail store back up,” Wilcut said, noting a retail outlet could be located onsite.
Wilcut has a place on the Chain O’ Lakes and is in Waupaca five days a week.
He and Jesica have two daughters and a son.