Mimi & Papa’s Homemade Popcorn and Homemade Ice Cream
STORY BY JOE JANCSURAK PHOTOS BY MISTY MURRAY PELLICIOTTA
Some septuagenarians happily fill their days with leisure pursuits, but not Wilmington natives and Leland residents Phyllis and George Murray a.k.a. Mimi and Papa, as in Mimi & Papa’s Homemade Popcorn and Homemade Ice Cream. The shop is on Village Road in the plaza behind Domino's Pizza, where George once owned and operated Murray Signs & Graphics.
Now he and Phyllis, his high school sweetheart and wife of 55 years, are doing what they talked about doing for so many years: bringing smiles to customers’ faces, one scoop and one bagful at a time, earning them North Brunswick Chamber of Commerce 2023 Leland Entrepreneur of the Year honors.
Making the endeavor even sweeter for the owners is that they get to work alongside family members with daughter Misty Pelliciotta and granddaughter Jordan sharing marketing and merchandising efforts. Also pitching in are son Chris, son-in-law Robert, grand-nephew Drake Budd, Betty Cottle, Phyllis’s former co-worker of almost 30 years, and Leland resident Anah Jacobson.
“As for my role, that’s simple, to do whatever Mimi says,” laughed George, an Air Force veteran, who together with Phyllis arrives to work at 7 am to pop the kernels and flavor the corn using a myriad of seasoning blends and ingredients such as real butter, cheese and brown sugar. On any given day they produce 20 or 30 popcorn flavors, such as sea salt caramel, white cheddar buffalo and Cincinnati chili. “Seventy-five percent of the flavors are customer requests,” said Misty.
As for the ice cream, typically there are 28 ice cream flavors that include the usual suspects—chocolate, strawberry, etc.—as well as exotic flavors such as Chandler Jane (butterscotch ice cream with peanut butter), banana pudding, and Sunset (coconut with pineapple chunks and strawberries), all of which are made in Southport by Chuck Geisel at Chuck’s Homemade Ice Cream.
Quality control is simple, said Phyllis. “If George isn’t happy with a popcorn flavor, it doesn’t go on the shelves. And if Chuck doesn’t like an ice cream flavor, he doesn’t release it.” Vegan options include as many as six Italian ice and sherbet flavors daily, with Chuck currently working to develop vegan ice cream flavors.
“We want customers to sample anything we sell and to let us know what they like,” said George, a past president of the North Brunswick Chamber of Commerce and cofounder of the Leland Rotary Club with District Attorney John David. “What makes this business so much fun is the many different personalities and repeat customers. To many of the children who come here, we’re simply Mimi and Papa,” nicknames their adult granddaughters (Jordan and Chandler) have called them since they were children. “First-time visitors come in as customers but often leave as our friends.”
“Of all the jobs we’ve had, this one’s the least stressful of all,” said Phyllis, a retired dental office manager and children’s daycare owner/operator. “It’s fun and we wake up each day feeling blessed to do what we do.”
Misty concurred. “To know that my daughter and I get to come in here every day to be a part of my parents’ dream is awesome. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows, but the love we have for each other, our customers, and this business is real,” said the former bank technology/operations manager and elementary school teacher. “And we support our community any way we can by sponsoring events and donating popcorn for athletic concessions and school fundraisers, as well as my dad’s incredible pencil drawings, which have raised lots of money for different organizations over the years.”
Looking ahead, is there a retirement plan for George, an avid golfer, and Phyllis, a self-described beach bum? “Yes, when the time comes. That’s why this is a family business,” said George. “When we retire, Mimi & Papa’s will be left in good hands.”