Who The Folk?! Michael Stern and Brett Striker

Michael Stern and Brett Striker have been friends going to back middle school. For the last two years, the duo has been developing popcorn flavors for their new business Maddy & Maize. As they get ready to ramp up production in their new commercial kitchen, learn all about these two entrepreneurs in this week’s Who The Folk?!

How did Maddy & Maize get started?

Brett Striker: Back in 2014, we started seeing popcorn food trend take off in grocery stores. My ex-girlfriend was a big health nut and she was eating a lot of popcorn. It was a healthier snack alternative to potato chips. I started doing research on popcorn and see what was to it, what the opportunity was, and look at ways to make it healthier. I was working closely with Michael and we formed a company to do this. Over the last couple years, we’ve seen it as an opportunity.

Michael Stern: It was something we were doing in our free time to assess the market and make something that could be a true business. It’s still very new. We’re starting to get traction and work closely with the staff at Adath while we finish our commissary space in West St. Paul.

When are you hoping to get in there?

MS: Hopefully within a month.

BS: A couple months ago was our hope.

What were you doing before this?

BS: I was doing IT consulting sales. I was working on this on my free time and once I thought I had enough to move on, now I’m doing this full time.

MS: I’m still doing strategic consulting for food and beverage companies, which is where this really fits in. But we both love food. We go out to eat all the time, we try to keep on top of all the food trends around the country. This is something that is truly a passion for us.

Plus when you factor how big food is within the Jewish community.

BS: I think we expected the Jewish community to be supportive, but I don’t know if I expected it to be as supportive as they’ve been. We’re still so new that we haven’t done any advertising or social media. Partly because we have such a small operation. Once we get to our bigger space we can do larger orders at a larger scale. But we’ve had to tone it down. Right now it has been word of mouth from family and friends in the community and that’s been keeping us going.

Has it been hard to purposefully tamp growth done?

MS: It’s been extremely difficult.

BS: We’re so lucky that Adath has donated the space to us. They said they want to see successful, young entrepreneurs that can give back to the community down the road, so that’s the trade-off. They want us to be successful so we can help the Jewish community and that’s what we want to do.

How quickly can you ramp up growth?

BS: Once we get into the kitchen in St. Paul we’re going to focus on getting into grocery stores. We want to have premium gift packages. We’re not doing tins, but premium gift boxes that are fully customizable. Gifting, online sales and boutique stores are our growth strategies.

Will the commissary space be certified Kosher?

BS: We’re working on that. It will be. That’s really important to us. It’s absolutely necessary.

What went into the conversation of how to develop flavors?

BS: We have a couple of flavors that everybody loves, but we wanted to do it slightly different. It took us about a year and a half to get our caramel perfected because we don’t want any high-fructose corn syrup so we put in tapioca syrup instead and it makes it lighter. It was really difficult. We have our white cheddar, but we wanted organic white cheddar. A lot of popcorn companies don’t even use real cheese. It was challenging to find real, actual cheese. We started taking cheese and dehydrating in a dehydrator we bought and that wasn’t working. We found an organic cheese distributor that provides us with organic white cheddar cheese. People want the cheddar and the caramel. And the kettle, that’s a staple.

We really want to separate ourselves with unique flavors. It’s important to use the best ingredients and come up with unique flavors. The challenge is that people aren’t used to unique flavors, so you have to figure out if people are open to it.

MS: You see these other companies that are coming out with flavors that are more appealing and on the savory side because they want people continuously coming back. That’s what we’re trying to do.

What’s flavor is too over the top?

MS: Nothing significant. I’d say the one that people grew into is a Porcini Mushroom, Rosemary and Olive Oil. At the last event it was our most popular flavor hands down.

BS: We’ve experimented with a lemon-pesto and it gets mixed reviews. We were working on a peanut butter one, but it’s such an allergen that we stopped.

Favorite Jewish food?

MS: I’ve got mine easily: brisket and kugel.

BS: That was going to be mine.

MS: My bubbie’s brisket and sweet kugel.

Favorite Jewish holiday?

MS: Passover, plus the compote.

BS: I’m not a Passover guy. I like Rosh Hashanah: New Year and apples and honey.

Check back later in the week for a review of some Maddy & Maize flavors. You won’t be disappointed!

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