Phil Pagano left his position as executive director of the downtown Sarasota Farmers Market three years ago to pursue his popcorn business full-time. Uncle Phil's Organic Popcorn, which serves organic popcorn in a variety of flavors, was initially a brick-and-mortar business. However, Pagano pivoted as he found success with mobile vending out of his food trailer, which he calls the Popcorn Barn.
Then Hurricane Ian struck.
After returning home to Nokomis from an event in Martha's Vineyard in the early morning hours of Sept. 28, Pagano parked his trailer underneath an old-growth ficus tree in his backyard and set out to hurricane-proof his home in preparation for Ian's arrival.
"I thought, 'This tree isn't coming down,'" he says.
But during the storm, Pagano received a text message from a neighbor asking if had seen that his tree had fallen. After the storm, he found the tree had landed squarely on the Popcorn Barn. "It was pretty twisted up," Pagano says.
Pagano's daughter, Lauren, helped her dad assess the trailer. After finding significant structural damage and a destroyed point-of-sale system, they decided it would be best to ask the community for help.
"Our insurance will not be covering our trailers, which is why we are asking for help if you can," she writes on the family's GoFundMe page. "My father's business relies upon the resources that have been damaged, and it is a heavy hit to take right before the start of season."
Uncle Phil's Organic Popcorn is scheduled to be at several upcoming events, including the UTC Night Market as well as larger festivals around the state. While Pagano has pieced the trailer back together with pieces of plywood, he says that it needs structural repairs in order to survive long-term.
If you would like to contribute to repairing the Popcorn Barn, you can do so on the family's GoFundMe page.