Sophie Bolich

Knights Gourmet Popcorn Adding Cafe Space

The Jackson Park popcorn store and micro-roastery will soon expand with a new coffee bar.

By - Aug 11th, 2023 04:15 pm
Site of Knights Gourmet Popcorn, 4435 W. Forest Home Ave. Photo submitted.

Site of Knights Gourmet Popcorn, 4435 W. Forest Home Ave. Photo submitted.

Since taking ownership of Knights Gourmet Popcorn last winter, Brittany and Ben Essig have been hard at work integrating their micro-roastery with the existing business.

Just shy of nine months into the new venture, the married couple feel they’ve hit their stride, and are gearing up for yet another expansion, with plans to open a cafe in the space.

The project would convert 1,000 square feet of retail space at the front of the building, 4435 W. Forest Home Ave., into a coffee bar and seating area for up to 20 guests.

The business would sell sandwiches, smoothies, kombucha and small bags of popcorn, as well as coffee and espresso drinks made with beans from the couple’s own brand, Rescued Roasters.

A lifelong coffee buff, Ben Essig gained industry experience through various jobs in his high school and college years. During the pandemic, he tried his hand at home-roasting his own beans.

He knew he was doing something right when Brittany’s co-workers started asking questions. “Everybody, even just smelling the coffee at my work, would be like ‘I want to try it,'” she said.

The couple also noted a lack of small, local coffee shops in their home neighborhood, Jackson Park, and said they often found themselves driving to Bay View or another part of the city. “It’s just not that convenient and accessible,” Brittany Essig said. “So we thought we’d give it a shot.”

In September 2022, they launched Rescued Roasters and began leasing space within Knights Gourmet Popcorn.

The roastery combines the Essigs’ love of high-quality coffee with their passion for supporting animal rescues, offering several varieties of beans with on-theme titles such as Tuxedo Cat, Good Girl and Dingo Blend. Each month, Rescued Roasters donates 10% of profits to local animal rescues. August’s rescue is Chained Dogs MKE.

Just a few months into the venture, former Knights owner Lew Herro offered to sell the business to the couple. And though acquiring a popcorn company wasn’t part of the their initial business plan, “it seemed like a good offer,” Ben Essig said. “So let’s just go for it. And we did.”

Knights Gourmet Popcorn was originally founded in 1952 by Ted and Llewellyn D. Knight. The 71-year-old business has changed hands a number of times in the past several years. Herro, the previous owner, acquired it in 2021 from Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and his wife Michelle, who had operated Knights since 2005.

The company sells 1-ounce, 8-ounce and bulk-sized bags of popcorn including caramel, cheese, kettle and double butter varieties.

Construction for the future cafe space is expected to begin in October, with a tentative opening date set for early November, according to the Essigs.

In the meantime, Knights Gourmet Popcorn is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.


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Categories: Food & Drink

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