My eyes, as they often do, hone in on “ranch cheddar.” Like the Predator’s thermal-vision scanning technology that allows it to pinpoint prey, my top gastronomic talent for better or worse — is a knack for rapidly finding ranch and its many glorious configurations on any given menu. So it was a thrill to spot the herbaceous, allium-tinged flavor on the list for Pop Wok N Drop, a small-batch, Oakland-based popcorn enterprise featuring an array of contemporary yet approachable flavors like sweet barbecue, caramel apple and cayenne lemon pepper.
Pop Wok N Drop is the brainchild of Nate Day, an Oakland-born-and-raised musician and DJ who’s hosted open-mic nights at Revolution Cafe, and Jasmine Griffin, who has a background the food industry including a stint at Artisan Confections working as a wholesale manager under the Scharffenberger and Joseph Schmitz brands. The pair launched the business as a pop-up at the Lake Merritt Boat House in 2021, during a rollerskating revival born out of pandemic-lockdown boredom.
“We started off doing cheese corn and basic kettle corn,” said Day, who was inspired to create his own homemade popcorn snacks after a stint at the now-shuttered Kettle Pop. “We wanted to do something different, give people popcorn they haven’t usually tasted before.”
Among their most popular flavors are Hot Cheetos, Caramel Shebag (an explosion of caramel and salted popcorn), Loaded Baked Potato, Garlic Parmesan, and the aforementioned Cheddar Ranch.
They also offer less savory options like Strawberry and Tajin or Lemon, and folks who want things their way can choose “Oakland Style,” a choose-your-own-adventure item where you can make up your own flavor combo and Day and Griffin will prepare it for you. (You can see their current menu below.)
And if you really want to go for it, there’s their Ultimate Munchie Mix. This menu item comes laced with caramel (which they make from scratch), Cinnamon Toast Crunch, smashed Oreos, chocolate, chunks of Snickers and bits of Ruffles potato chips all mixed together with caramel and kettle corn.
To make their creations, Pop Wok N Drop buys their kernels and most of their seasoning and mix-ins from West Oakland worker-owned cooperative Mandela Grocery.
Their preparation methods are hidden in its name: a riff off of Huey’s 2006 earworm “Pop, Lock & Drop It,” Day and Griffin swapped “wok” in for “lock” as a hat tip to the bowl-shaped stovetop pan they use to pop their corn.
The end result: thrillingly flavored popcorn sold in in bag and ball form, the latter ideal for those who love the nostalgic format. Prices range from $8 to $10 a bag, depending on flavor and add-ins.
While Day and Griffin’s budding venture remains a pop-up, farmers market and online (they’re currently filing orders for customers as far as Detroit and Texas) business for now, the couple hopes to expand as their treats gain more and more fans. Ideally, they’d open a brick-and-mortar of their own, a la Squabish Bakery, an East Bay farmers market pretzel business that now does booming business from its Berkeley bakery
“I would love to open a store one day,” Griffin said. “Ideally, in my neck of the woods in Oakland – that would be great.”
Follow Pop Wok N Drop on Instagram for updates and schedule of appearances. Call or text Pop Wok N Drop at 510-899-5151 to place an order; some Bay Area buyers can even have their orders hand delivered by Day.