By Alison Decker
NASHVILLE, TN — Over 40 years ago Ezra Gipson’s parents Grady and Lula Gipson started making popcorn in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. During the summers Gipson would help his father pop popcorn and operate the equipment that makes the popcorn process easier. Summer festivals were a seasonal hit along with the popcorn trolly and concessions which served fair-style foods—caramel apples, funnel cakes, sodas and even snow cones. As a family they would cook to honor their grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Food was not just a way of life but a way to give back to the community and their family.
After moving from Milwaukee to Nashville in 1993, Ezra and his wife Marcia Gipson attended Fisk University. In their first entrepreneur experience together, they started a mobile car detailing company. For nearly 15 years they worked together on vehicles. It was a successful business and was their own, but the Gipsons wanted to bring back family tradition in the familiar way they knew how—by cooking.
Shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic in January 2020 they started the food truck on the side while still operating their car detailing business. They wanted to see how profitable the venture would be first before discontinuing the detailing operation.
“The pandemic was good for us because we were considered essential employees because of being in the food service industry,” Marcia Gipson said.
The popcorn side of the business is Grady’s Cool Kernels, and the fair food end of the business is Grady’s Concessions which encompasses all their customers’ favorite fair style foods. Grady’s Cool Kernel’s was a tribute to Ezra Gipson’s father, whose name was Grady.
They began setting up outside of apartment complexes when the majority of people were working from home, then phased to operating year-round at parks, birthday parties, food truck days at businesses, festivals, church socials, school field days and end-of-the-school-year bashes in May.
Marcia Gipson said, “That’s what makes our business unique, because we offer popcorn and fair food favorites all year round. It has helped us being in a place where the scarcity drives people to us.”
Marcia is responsible for devising the names of the ten individual popcorn flavors, such as, Can’t Stop Kettle Corn, Better Butter, Spit Fire, Truly Cheddar, Country Kick Nashville Mix, Comfort Me Cookies & Crème, Banging Barbeque, and White Cheddar Wonder to name a few. Country Kick Nashville Mix is a tribute to Chicago and to the “Nashville Hot” popularity. It’s made by heating up the cheese and sweetening it with caramel.
“Comfort Me Cookies & Crème is kind of like the popcorn you want to sit down and eat while you’re watching a movie while the Spit Fire flavor is our rendition of a hot Taki or hot Cheeto,” Marcia said.
Gipson’s Concessions also offers cotton candy, hot dogs, funnel cakes, nachos, and lemonade.
Erin Hunt, a Murfreesboro local, said, “They have the most delicious popcorn that I have ever had.”
They expanded in 2022 by striking a deal with Kroger and now offer their popcorn in stores throughout Middle Tennessee. Their popcorn is available in a three-bag bundle, two-gallon or 3.5-gallon tins.
Marcia said, “We pitched to Kroger’s and our proposal ended up in the hands of the executives of Kroger’s, they really liked it and from there we started talking about offering our popcorn in their stores.”
“We got a really good response from our kettle corn,” Ezra Gipson said.
Another local business that Grady’s Concessions works with is Cedar Glade Brews in Murfreesboro. It is part of their expansion with their popcorn business, including Nashville Threads in the Nashville Airport and The Soda Bar in Murfreesboro. Every Fall they work with Walden Pumpkin Farm in Smyrna.
Although Ezra’s parents have passed their legacy lives on in the spectacular foods Grady’s Concessions makes. Grady’s Concession’s operates Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to five p.m. You can reach them by email at email@example.com or visit their website https://www.getgradyspopcorn.com/ and follow their social media on Facebook @GRADY’SClassicConcessions and Instagram @GradysCC. Their next concession event will be in April 15th through May 6th at World Outreach Church in Murfreesboro. Come out and support your local businesses.