By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Dec 12, 2005 at 5:14 AM

For Paul Cannariato and his wife Stacy, opening Col. Pops Popcorn Co. this fall in Wauwatosa was about more than supplying tasty treats for the neighborhood. Although their popcorn is a snack force to be reckoned with, more than anything, they saw their business as a personal vehicle for change and support.

Earlier this year, the Cannariatos lost a child to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Inspired by the help and support they received during their tragedy, they knew that they wanted to contribute and be on the supportive end for other families dealing with loss.

Col. Pops Popcorn Co. -- 7227 W. North Ave. -- opened in October with a mission: Through community fundraising, the Cannariatos would give five percent of their sales to Children's Hospital for SIDS research.

"It's been going really great," says Paul. "We've got over 20 schools participating already."

Establishing their store as a destination for children is important for the Cannariatos. "We want it to be a fun place. I want to be the popcorn guy kids come to see when school's out." Col. Pops' "after school special" features a free bag of fresh popcorn with an order of a large slushy.

They also keep health-conscious adults in mind. "I came up with a popcorn that nobody else is producing," says Paul, who has been in the popcorn business for years. "It tastes just like movie popcorn, but there's no cholesterol or trans fats." The secret, he says, is a special blend of oils that no one is using for popcorn, mostly because it is more expensive than the standard coconut oil most businesses use.

"Everybody's looking for a healthy snack, and we can provide that without losing the taste."

And he's prepared to prove it to you. A visit to the store almost guarantees you a free sampling of warm, fresh popcorn as you shop. Paul says that he is willing to let his customers try any flavor of popcorn before they purchase it.

Flavors include their top-selling butter toffee caramel corn, white double cheddar and the cheesy caramel corn, which, according to Paul, has been dubbed "the crack of popcorn" by customers.

They have also upped the ante on Chicago-style popcorn -- double cheddar cheese mixed with butter toffee caramel -- by creating a Milwaukee-style blend, which adds a dose of gourmet white popcorn to the mix.

Also, he says that their selection of candy-flavored popcorn is a delicious treat that must be sampled to truly appreciate. The selection of 15 flavors include the intriguing caramel apple pie, banana split, root beer float and tutti-frutti, which Paul claims resembles "Fruity Pebbles" cereal.

And in addition to Badgers or Packers-colored corn, they are willing to coordinate their kernels to match area schools' colors, as well.

"We want this to be a family-run, community-based store," he says. "And so far, it's been incredible. We came out popping!" He adds, "Sorry, everything's a popcorn pun now."

Col. Pops Popcorn is open Monday, 12-7 p.m.; Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. and, through the holidays, Sunday, 12-3 p.m.

The Web site is

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”