When Lee Feldman was in his mid-20s, he used to transport people back and forth from the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., beachfront. In the process, Feldman says he learned a basic truth about himself: "I loved working with people, but I wasn't really crazy about working for someone else," he says.

Lee says he and his younger brother, Lonnie, decided to start their own business, but they weren't sure what that business would be. They just knew they wanted to do something "fun, unique and exciting."

After doing some research, the Feldmans decided that popcorn fit the bill.

"We liked popcorn as much as the next guy, but what attracted us to the business was the ability to work with people, to give them something to smile about," says Feldman, 38. "That's the philosophy we still have today."

It's just that now, that philosophy affects a few more people. Lee and Lonnie own four Pops Corn locations in South Florida. Their newest venture, Yo Mama's Ice Cream, shares space with the Pops Corn Fort Lauderdale beach location.

Lee Feldman, of Plantation, Fla., says the business now has 30 employees who, as he puts it, "work hard every day to get a smile out of people. That's why we're all here."

After the first Pops Corn location opened in Weston, Fla., Lee says business increased quickly. As their customer base grew, so did the work, which was a welcome necessity for the Feldman brothers.

"If you have a good product -- and we have a great product -- you have to put your faith in it and the people who make it and sell it," Lee says. "And we were confident about what we were doing. People started coming in and buying more and the number of repeat customers grew. The word-of-mouth advertising was getting out there. People talking to each other, telling their friends and family about this great popcorn they'd had. It's a cliche, but you can't buy that kind of advertising."

SOMETHING NEW

As the popcorn business boomed, the Feldmans decided they wanted to do more at their Fort Lauderdale beach location, which gets a lot of foot traffic and has a steady flow of customers beyond the usual December-through-April busy season. After mulling over a few ideas and researching potential products, they decided to add ice cream to their repertoire, and Yo Mama's Ice Cream was born.

"We make everything right there; fresh ice cream every day," says Lee, who admits he had no prior experience in making ice cream. Instead, he says, "I read everything I could about ice cream and watched a lot of videos."

He and his brother began experimenting with flavors and ingredients, and by Lee's account, nailed it on their first full batch.

"It was buttered rum, pecans and white chocolate chips," he says. "It was fantastic. It's still the same recipe we use today."

Lee says he wasn't surprised that he and his brother could create such tantalizing ice cream -- the Yo Mama's Ice Cream online reviews back up his claims -- because they'd already done something similar with Pops Corn products.

"We have seven flavors, and each one was made through trial and error and a lot of research," Lee says. "Whether it's the ice cream or the popcorn, the taste of the product is the most important part of our business."

But Lee is quick to add that it's just a part.

"We have to provide excellent service," he says. "That's what makes the customer happy."

TEAM EFFORT

Lee Feldman says Yo Mama's serves 16 to 18 flavors each day. Currently, its most popular is Salted Butter Popcorn Ice Cream, which is made with Pops Famous Caramel Popcorn.

"If you love the popcorn, you love the ice cream, and if you love the ice cream, you'll love the popcorn," Lee says. "And ice cream is the perfect complimentary food to popcorn, so it's great to have them both in one location."

The best part of the job, according to Lee, is making people happy. That, and working with his brother.

"It's a lot of fun to do something we both love," he says. "We work really well together."

The logistics of Florida sometimes make it challenging to get products, Lee says.

"The state of Florida buys a lot of products, but there's not a lot heading out, so you're paying more for trucks that probably won't be leaving with materials to deliver somewhere else," he says.

Lee says he and his brother have considered expanding beyond South Florida, but if they do, they want to make sure to do it the right way.

"I don't want to grow just for the sake of growing," Lee says. "We put a lot of care into what we do and we're always learning new things. My priority is creating a brand that South Florida can be proud of. I wouldn't want that to ever change."

When the Feldman brothers decided to sell ice cream, they figured they'd get a companion name to Pops Corn, so Yo Mama's would seem like an obvious choice. But Lee says the name goes a bit beyond that.

"We love our mom. What else can two sons do for their mom? She loves coming here and she's been supportive all along. It's a tribute to her."

Original Story by Marco Buscaglia, Tribune Content Agency
CareerBuilder, Chicago Tribune