Orlanda Whitfield, PH.D., was born and raised in Omaha. She graduated from Central High School in 1995 and received a doctorate in both education and educational leadership from College of Saint Mary, where she teaches adjunct classes. She also teaches classes at Doane University. She works full-time at CenturyLink as a communications technician and has for the last 20 years. And a little over two years ago, she opened her own business, Still Poppin Gourmet Popcorn. There are few things Whitfield doesn’t do—she loves being busy.
For Whitfield, owning a business is something she’s always wanted. It’s in her roots. Her dad is an entrepreneur and her grandmother, Thelma, is a professional cook and Whitfield’s early teacher. “I remember waking up to the smell of her cooking,” Whitfield says. “She always made sure we went to school or church fed.” Whitfield says she was a young girl when her grandmother first taught her how to make caramel corn on movie night.
Whitfield also credits her grandmother for encouraging creativity in her culinary attempts. She says it made her feel like she could cook anything. So, it only makes sense that cooking comes naturally to her.
So did the location for her business in North Omaha, where she wants to start building her legacy. She was working on a committee for the Mildred Brown Foundation when she decided to open the Still Poppin Gourmet Popcorn store at The Fair Deal Village MarketPlace on North 24th Street.
The marketplace houses eight businesses in repurposed shipping containers with a café at the center, where the landmark Omaha diner Fair Deal Café once stood. The redevelopment kept the original art deco and tin ceiling from the café intact.
Whitfield kettle-cooks her popcorn from scratch in a commercial kitchen at No More Empty Pots, a local nonprofit that advocates for food security by connecting individuals with locally grown, organic product. The most popular flavor she sells is known as the “Omaha mix.” It’s a sweet, savory mix of caramel corn covered in cheese. Still Poppin Gourmet Popcorn offers between 10 to 20 flavors at a time, and Whitfield says she’s always working on new ideas.
“I love coming up with new flavors and then having people try them to see what their reaction is, good or bad,” she says. Recently her love for Thai food has influenced her creations in the form of movie theater butter and spicy Sriracha popcorn.
She’s most inspired by the women in her life: her grandmother, who turned 90 last year, her granddaughter, NeMiya, and the women business owners in her community. Whitfield says they were incredibly supportive when she started her own business.
Patricia “Big Mama” Barron and Gladys Harrison from Big Mama’s Kitchen previously worked with Whitfield at CenturyLink. She says they gave her encouragement and wanted her to succeed.
Supporting women in her community is very important to Whitfield. She’s always trying to find the best way to use her business to give back. She believes food is a great way to bring people together. That’s why her business partners with local sports teams and youth organizations selling popcorn as fundraisers.
Looking to the future, Whitfield wants to expand into local retail stores and, eventually, she wants to open franchise locations. She wants her legacy to include a scholarship for women in her community who want to start a business or advance their education.
“A lot of times, we as women entrepreneurs are starting businesses because the glass ceiling still exists for us in other industries,” Whitfield says. “I think that’s why you’re seeing women start more businesses than anyone else right now.”
Visit stillpoppin402.com for more information.
The printed version of this story identifies Whitfield’s grandmother as Doris (her mother) and states that Whitfield graduated in 1959. Her grandmother’s name is Thelma, and she graduated in 1995.
This article was printed in the May 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.