Popcorn machines

If you love to crunch your way through the previews, thank Charles Cretors. In the 1880s, he built a steam-powered nut roaster that he later used to cook popcorn in butter and salt. Today, his company, Cretors, which has 75 employees and annual revenue of more than $15 million, makes popcorn poppers and other concession machines used in movie theaters and amusement parks. The founder's great-grandson Charles D. Cretors now runs the Chicago-based company with his son Andrew. Popcorn poppers start at $700; industrial machines used by snack food companies can cost up to $500,000. The model seen here goes for about $16,000 and cranks out 1,960 ounces -- or 15 large buckets -- of popcorn an hour.


The ever-changing roster of workers at movie theaters, fast-food restaurants, and casual dining chains adds up to a lot of nametags. "We love turnover," says Jerry Anderson, CEO of Stoffel Seals, a Nyack, New York, company whose 400 employees make nametags and a slew of other products, including napkin bands, animal tracking tags, and seals for cargo containers. Founded in 1941, Stoffel was bought in 2004 by Riverside Company, a private equity firm.

Ice Cream

Order ice cream here, and you will get a bag of pellets from Dippin' Dots. Flash freezing in liquid nitrogen gives the ice cream its shape. The company's founder and CEO, Curt Jones, a microbiologist with a background in cryogenics, developed the treats in 1987. Now Dippin' Dots are available in some 2,000 locations, including more than 300 franchises and 400 vending machines at theme parks, malls, and theaters. Last year, Dippin' Dots made nearly three million gallons of ice cream in its factory in Paducah, Kentucky, using seven million gallons of liquid nitrogen. The company has 200 employees and annual sales of about $40 million.

Menu Signs

Everbrite makes the fluorescent-lit menu display cases that help lure moviegoers to the nachos. Charles Wamser, a sheet-metal worker, founded the company in 1927 to make glowing signs out of sheet metal and incandescent bulbs. Everbrite, based in Greenfield, Wisconsin, now produces an array of LED, neon, and fluorescent signs for restaurants, ballparks, and bars, including the golden arches for McDonald's (NYSE:MCD). It also sells medical lights for MRI rooms. The founder's daughter-in-law Judith Wamser and her daughter Ellen now own Everbrite, which has annual revenue of more than $100 million, 850 employees, and nine manufacturing plants.