Alan Brandon doesn’t think his 1931 Ford Model A, which was retrofitted long ago to serve as a rolling popcorn production facility, makes for much of a tech story. While there may be a kernel of truth in that, the bright red, yellow and black vehicle is definitely geeky, and Brandon does possess an entrepreneurial drive.
Brandon, 69, is the proprietor of Pop’s Popcorn, and he’s been parking and popping in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood for several years. While there are certainly plenty of unique truck styles — a big, steel pig or block of cheese — and food offerings among Seattle’s fleet of food trucks, Brandon’s truck gets second looks because it’s just so simple and pretty.
Parked one evening this week in the lot in front of Saleh’s, a convenience market at the corner of 24th Avenue NW and NW 80th Street, Brandon handed small $2 bags of freshly popped popcorn to a steady stream of customers.
“I’m a Model A mechanic, and I saw this advertised on CraigsList of all things, and they were practically giving it away because they couldn’t get it to run,” said Brandon, a former facilities manager for design companies. “We saw this and thought, ‘That would be a great thing to do for your retirement.’ So I come up here once or twice a week, whenever I feel like it — nice days.”
Standing inside the truck’s wood-trimmed glass box, Brandon called it a mix of art deco and art nouveau. A member of a local Model A club, he said the vehicles require constant maintenance.
“There’s the oil cups to fill, there’s probably 30 grease fittings, and they need to be greased regularly,” he said. “They’re a six-volt system and they run down real fast, so in order to keep it alive, they need to drive.”
And on short drives around Ballard between his home and places where he parks, he’ll get the 4-speed truck up to about 35 or 40 mph. It takes forever to shift and he has to fish for the gears.
“Anybody honks at me I give ’em this thing,” he said, as he leaned over and let loose on the vehicle’s Klaxon horn, which let out a signature ooooo-gah sound. “Everyone recognizes the Klaxon.”
As for his signature product, he just calls it regular old popcorn — low-fat soy oil and a little bit of flavoring with salt. The current popcorn maker is probably from the 1970s or ’80s. Whoever redid the body added the ability to hook up electricity.
“There was a number of different roasters and poppers and stuff that they had back in the day. I don’t know when it was converted to electric and not kerosene anymore,” Brandon said. The truck also has a fresh water tank, a hot water heater and a small sink.
But Pop’s Popcorn doesn’t require a food truck permit because popcorn is not a “dangerous food item,” according to Brandon. However, in true Seattle fashion, in order to not have a permit, you need to be permitted to show that you don’t need a permit. “So I’ve got a letter from the city that says I don’t require a permit,” he said.
Brandon usually parks for three hours or so. He said the popcorn sells itself because of the smell.
During our brief chat, a father and son walked up and the dad remarked on how cool the truck is. The Klaxon got another ooooo-gah for the kid. A couple teenagers stared at the truck and left with a bag of popcorn. A guy with a dog in front of his car parked and got out to order. Another customer asked, “Is that for the dog or you?” The guy laughed. “We’ll fight over it.”
Brandon isn’t at all concerned about sales or how much money he makes on a given night. He uses what he does bring in to perform maintenance on the truck. He just did the brakes, and he’s going to need new tires soon.
“This is 90-year-old technology!” he said.
And after all that, turns out it was a tech story.