Ken Zeff is living the dream. While fast asleep one night in 2017, visions of popcorn danced in his head.
“I woke up and started Googling popcorn stores,” says Zeff, founder of local coffee chain Crazy Mocha. “The more I thought about it, the more I realized it’s such a happy food. Why wouldn’t I want to open one?”
Fancypants Popcorn opened at Liberty Center in Downtown Pittsburgh on Nov. 14. The walk-up counter is located in the business corridor of the building and serves six core flavors, from white cheddar to chocolate-peanut butter, with seasonal offerings rotating throughout the year.
Customers can opt for a range of sizes to eat right away or they can take home 1- to 2-gallon tins. Every kernel is popped on-site. But Fancypants also gets creative: Looking for a liquid snack? They make root beer floats with popcorn and products from Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor, a sweet Strip District institution.
This fun food fix is available from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Zeff plans to open a flagship Fancypants Popcorn store in Braddock, his father’s hometown, on July 1, 2020.
The 10,000-square-foot space at 800 Braddock Ave. will house Fancypants’ wholesale operation, as well as a cafe where guests can enjoy sandwiches, ice cream and coffee. Other locations throughout Pittsburgh also are in the works.
Through partnerships with with organizations such as Achieva and The Friendship Circle, Zeff hopes to hire people with special needs, building up their job skills and confidence before they seek full-time employment in other fields. His 11-year-old son, Zane, already helps out at Liberty Center.
“We see ourselves as a minor league team that’s getting them ready for the majors,” Zeff says.
So, what’s behind the fancy name?
Through online research, Zeff discovered many national popcorn brands were started by families with catchy names like Redenbacher. In his opinion, “Zeff Popcorn” didn’t have a nice enough ring to it, so he made up a character called Mr. Fancypants — a mustachioed gent who is continuously dreaming up unique popcorn recipes.
“What’s great about popcorn is no matter where you get it,” Zeff says, “it’s associated with a happy moment.”