After recently retiring from their professional careers, Holly and Neal McLeod were trying to figure out what to do next. So, they circled back to an idea that had popped in their heads on their honeymoon 25 years prior. Literally.
The McLeods recently opened the gourmet popcorn and candy shop Kernel Kullman in downtown's Warehouse District, where they offer 75 different flavors of popcorn and a bevy of throwback candies and bottled sodas so unique most people probably forgot they even existed anymore. From Candy Blocks, to Zots, the selections dig deep into the quirky and nostalgic. Along with the vintage candies, they also make all their popcorn and fudge in-house.
"We have things you probably haven't seen in years," Neal said. "We have to seek a lot of these things out."
Holly is a retired HR consultant, while Neal recently hung up his conductor's wand as the director of a high school band. With their kids now grown, Holly said she was drawn to return to her hometown of Cullman to bring the city a unique shop like the ones she loved visiting in other parts of the country. If gourmet popcorn shops can succeed elsewhere, why not in downtown Cullman?
"I saw my first popcorn store on our honeymoon 25 years ago, and I've gravitated toward them ever since," she said. "With our youngest daughter about to graduate, we kept coming back to doing a popcorn store."
Three weeks into the chocolatey, salty experiment, and Holly said things are going well. The Christmas in Cullman open house last weekend brought some fresh attention to their newly-opened shop, and the couple hopes that buzz will lead to a busy holiday season. With Christmas shopping season in full swing, the shop is offering gift sets with different items combined (i.e. popcorn, candy, drinks) in collectible college football tins, as well as special orders.
"We've had a very positive response, and already have a lot of regulars," she said. "Even among popcorn stores, we want this place to be something different. We want to make it a gathering place for people to come and visit."
As for how they landed on the pitch perfect "Kernel Kullman" moniker? Holly said it was Neal's one and only viable recommendation during the brainstorming session — but it was definitely the right one.
"We were trying to come up with names, and Neal was just being quiet," she laughed. "So, I told him he needed to engage, and after a moment he said 'Kernel Kullman?' Right then, we knew that was it."
Kernel Kullman is located at 113 First Avenue NE in downtown Cullman.