Chris Sumner knows full well that opening a gourmet popcorn shop in Elgin will bring on comparisons with one iconic Chicago popcorn store -- and he's more than ready.
"I'm better than Garrett's -- and you can write that I said it with confidence. I'm bold," he said. "Everybody that brags about Garrett's, they throw the towel in after they try Mama Lee's."
Mama Lee's Gourmet Popcorn is slated to have its grand opening Friday at 20 S. Spring St. in downtown Elgin, just in time to feed the crowds attending Fourth of July festivities.
Popcorn will come in several varieties: Butter pop, kettle corn and about six daily "gourmet" flavors that will rotate weekly, Sumner said. Among the special flavors will be buffalo ranch, chili lime, birthday cake, cookies 'n cream and habanero BBQ, out of a total assortment of about 30 flavors, he said.
This is the first popcorn store for Sumner, 28, of Poplar Grove, "but many more are yet to come," he said. "Elgin is at a point where it needs something new, something fresh, something catchy," he said. "Everybody loves popcorn. It's a family thing."
Sumner, who grew up in Elgin and graduated from Elgin High School, said he took classes at Elgin Community College and has worked a variety of jobs including in a barber shop. He signed a lease for the space -- which used to hold Budget Signs -- in April, and he's been working on getting it ready while working as a full-time machine operator at a local factory, he said.
The shop is named after his mother, Leticia, who first taught him how to make caramel popcorn, a delicacy she'd give away to other parishioners at Faithwalk Harvest Center in Carpentersville, Sumner said.
"Elgin needs a popcorn shop, and I'm just filling in that gap,'" he said. "I always go to Oak Park, St. Charles, Geneva, and I start thinking, 'Elgin can be this way. Why not?'"