by Christa Peressini, Photography by Michael Becker
If you’re a native of Bucks County, you’ve probably spent many summers down the shore, playing in the ocean, building sand castles, and of course, munching on caramel corn while strolling the boardwalk.Those days don’t have to be over, even as the weather turns colder. Thanks to New Hope’s Clusters Caramel Corn, this summer favorite is available all year long.
Owners and Bucks County natives Linda and Jules Sghiatti have lived in New Hope for over 18 years while raising three children and working in their own residential building business. One evening, after attending the Friday Night Fireworks on the Delaware River, they realized that New Hope didn’t have any quick snack stops other than ice cream shops. “We talked about how we love the caramel corn from the boardwalk at the jersey shore and thought this would be a perfect snack for the fireworks. It just took off from there!” says Linda.
And take off it did. The shop currently boasts 15 flavors of gourmet popcorn, with 10 standard flavors and 5 that rotate every weekend. Linda’s husband, Jules, is a familiar sight on weekends standing in front of the shop and offering samples to passers-by. “We call him ‘the hook,” laughs Linda, “because he draws people in with the samples. And I’m ‘the cook’! My kitchen is right there in the store, so customers can see where and how everything gets made.”
Clusters popcorn is handmade in the store in small batches. The corn is GMO-free and popped in coconut oil, never butter. Because it is only popped in small batches, it is always fresh. Linda makes all the varieties from the most delicious ingredients available – for example, the white cheddar flavor is made with real cheese instead of the more commonly used cheese powder, the “Cookie Explosion” contains crushed-up cookies & cream, and “Peanut Butter Blast” made with Reese’s Pieces Candy.
“Originally, all the flavors were my own creation,” says Linda, “but now many of the flavor ideas are given to me by customers. ‘Monkey Crisp’ is a banana cream pie flavor created by a little girl from Staten Island. ‘Jack Daniel’s BBQ’ was created by a man named Rusty from New Jersey!”
In addition to the popcorn sold in the store, Clusters does a booming business in parties, events, and corporate gifts. “Our customers get very creative!” says Linda. “We’ve set up several popcorn stations at weddings and have done quite a few baby showers, usually with the theme of ‘she’s about to pop,’ as well as Bar Mitzvahs and birthday parties.” Linda also stresses that they are happy to customize an order to a customer’s specifications. “We’ve done blue and pink for gender reveal parties too, which has been fun,” she adds.
If you are craving a hot brew or a cold treat, Clusters has opened a coffee and gelato bar in their expanded space next door, featuring locally-roasted coffee and locally-made gelato. “My hope is that it will become a neighborhood-friendly spot,” says Linda.
At its heart, Clusters has a deep connection to New Hope. “Being a part of the New Hope community is very important to our business,” says Linda. “Our packaging is all about New Hope, our store is all about New Hope. We’ve lived here so long that we already felt connected to the town, and now with friends and neighbors dropping in, it couldn’t be a better fit.”
If you find yourself in New Hope, follow your nose to Clusters Caramel Corn at 87A South Main St. And when asked if you’d like the bag open or closed, always answer “open,” which will get you an extra scoop to eat while walking around!
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