Every city has hidden gems in their community where delicious food — whether it’s burgers, hot dogs, or even popcorn — is worth the drive, wait and expense.
Michael Habteselasse chose to be a purveyor of the latter. With popcorn voted one of America’s favorite snacks, Habteselasse and his popcorn cart have the market cornered for the finest kernels in the District.
According to the Popcorn Board, an umbrella organization under which popcorn manufacturers promote all things kernel, Americans consume 13 billion quarts of popped popcorn annually, or 42 quarts per man, woman, and child. It is one of the most wholesome and economical foods available.
And those in the DMV have a lasting love for Habteselasse’s, evidenced by the long lines of anxious customers.
Since November 1992, Habteselasse, 62, also known as “Mike the Popcorn Man,” has been serving popcorn to the DMV area. His flavors include Cheddar Cheese, White Cheddar Cheese, Jalapeno, Pepper Pop, Sour Cream and Chives, Cajun, Ranch, Butter, and Barbeque.
When asked about his daily average number of customers, Habteselasse said he “gets too many to count.”
One customer, Charles James, has been loyal to Habteselasse’s popcorn stand for 24 years. With his favorite flavor being white cheddar, he said he braves the lines on Fridays for movie night with his wife.
“I’ve waited in line for as long as 45 minutes in the heat because the popcorn is that good,” James said. “The fact that Mike stands there and pops each bag to order makes it fresh, hot, and worth every minute of the wait. Knowing how busy Mike can be, I subscribed to an email list for notifications and updates about the locations and new flavors.”
Habteselasse said his inspiration to serve popcorn to the community came from a man who sold popcorn from a stand in 1991. Shortly after, he started his own business.
“I chose to sell popcorn because it can be made in a short amount of time, does not go bad easily, and makes good money,” Habteselasse said. “It is not as easy as you think it is — there is no room for mistakes. You must pay close attention to what the customers want.”
Another customer, Jeanette Marsh, who loves Habteselasse’s Pepper Pop mixed with cheddar, said that she has been coming to the popcorn stand since 2006, when she and her sorority sisters needed snacks for a book club.
“I literally thought I’d died and gone to snack heaven because my sorority sisters and I had decided to go saltless — and that meant tasteless — store-bought snacks, until Mike offered to pop fresh batches without any salt just for us,” Marsh laughingly told The Informer. “Soon there was a whole group from my office and others from my church who also wanted them. So now I am one of the people holding up the line, purchasing six and eight large bags at a time.”
Habteselasse is currently training a couple of people to work alongside him, with the goal of opening another stand in Southwest by the end of July. He also plans to obtain a new food truck sometime this fall.
Mike the Popcorn Man’s truck operates 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays at 3rd and D streets in Southwest. He also sets up shop at other various locations throughout the rest of the week, including 7th and D streets in Southwest and Union Station on 1st Street in Northeast.