WASHINGTON — As appealing as the sights and sounds of the beach are, in many cases the smells can be just as alluring. Salt air and suntan oil are among the sweet smells always swirling in the breeze, and steamed crabs can be found seemingly every few blocks.
But there’s another treat at the beach that you usually smell before you see: The sweet aroma of sugar mixing into caramel at Fisher’s Pop Corn often drifts for a block or two from the source, which can be found at a handful of stands up and down Coastal Highway from the Ocean City Boardwalk into Rehoboth Beach.
Caramel corn is a staple at the beach, sold by the bucket for nearly 80 years by the Fisher family ever since they arrived in Ocean City in 1937.
“My grandfather started it,” says Fisher’s president Donald Fisher. “There was one generation that got into it, then they brought their kids which was another generation, and basically it snowballed to the fact that we’re getting great-grandkids of the people from originally,” he said before pausing and noting, “I got employees here that are grandkids [of] original employees.”
Fisher has spent most of his life working for and eventually taking over the family business. And while Fisher’s started in Ocean City, its roots can be traced further up the mid-Atlantic coast.
“Originally my grandfather worked for a man, I want to say it was up in New Jersey,” said Fisher. “The gentleman went on a break one day and didn’t tell my grandfather what the recipe was and he ran out of popcorn. So he basically threw his own little batch [together], made that, liked his better, stopped working for the man [and] came down here and started his own business,” he said.
Since that time, the recipe hasn’t changed at all — “not a bit,” said Fisher. “We haven’t changed anything in basically the 79 years,” he said.
Fisher himself has been around Ocean City for most of his life, and except for a stab at doing something else with his life in his early 20s, he’s always been associated with the family business he now leads. And the family business has endured because so have the customers.
“We’re part of Ocean City’s history,” said Fisher. “We’ve been here so long and people have come to Ocean City and sampled our popcorn [and] liked it — they ship it home, order it online to be sent home. It’s gone generation to generation and it has become a tradition and it’s almost like, people expect somebody from Ocean City, ‘Bring me back some popcorn.’ I hear that a lot.
“I really couldn’t tell you what it is about it,” said Fisher. “People try it, they like it, it’s almost like it is addictive, but there’s nothing wrong with it being addictive in the sense it’s just sugar.”
The original, and still the best-selling popcorn, is the caramel-flavored variety. But cheese, Old Bay and other flavors mean you now have nine different ways to fill up your buckets. And while the brand briefly went national through an association with Saks Fifth Avenue, today the only way to get it is by either ordering it online or taking a trip to the beach. So it should be no surprise the same expectations, or at least requests, that your friends or co-workers may have of you when they find out you’re going to the beach extend to him even more so.
“I get asked all the time, ‘Did you bring any popcorn with you?’ ‘Where’s my popcorn?’ ‘How’s the popcorn business?’ That kind of stuff. Everyone associates me and my family with the popcorn business,” he said.