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Rayhaan Jhetam. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Rayhaan Jhetam. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

Forget the pedestrian piquancy of salt and butter. The gourmet popcorn conjured up at Maverick and Jane, a wee store at The Zone @ Rosebank panders more to Willy Wonka-esque flavours.

Think white chocolate and caramel, hazelnut Rocher and Belgian peppermint.

The new store gives popcorn a makeover. But it also unofficially debunks the myth that accountants tend to be boring. Kitted out in an apron, founder Rayhaan Jhetam, a CA, is unflinching when asked what the store’s best flavour is: cheese popcorn mixed with caramel.

He returned to SA after six years in the United Arab Emirates, where he served in positions at KPMG and Al Hilal Bank.

“My forte [at the bank] was acquisitions and restructurings. I was responsible for strategic planning, business development and corporate finance deals. I learnt how to go about building, restructuring and engineering businesses on an operational, customer and brand level.

“When I joined [the bank] it was a start-up and within four years it was ranked among the top 10 banks in the UAE,” he says.

Last year, Jhetam was selected as one of the top 35 CAs in SA under 35 by the SA Institute of Chartered Accountants.

His tenure at Hilal Bank exposed him to Abu Dhabi Vision 2030 — the emirate’s economic development and diversification plan, and Jhetam saw the opportunity to return to SA.

“Their plan is very similar to SA’s National Development Plan. A lot of the talent pool in Abu Dhabi is from outside the country, they’re on a big drive to create ‘Emiratisation’ and nationalisation — bringing people from Abu Dhabi into the economy.

“I really wanted to come back to SA with a clear agenda and commitment — there is so much work to be done here, in terms of unemployment, education and social welfare. I thought no matter how small, I could make a difference from an SME perspective,” he says.

Maverick and Jane is delivering on one of those commitments. Of the eight people at the 25m² store, all but two were previously unemployed.

Starting a new business, however, particularly one as novel as Maverick and Jane, does pose some challenges. Some landlords were sceptical of Jhetam’s plan to sell just a bag of popcorn and nothing else. “When you raise the bar and try to do something different and unique — expect challenges, it won’t come easy,” Jhetam says.

Jhetam still has a permanent office job at Barclays, where he is the vice-president of group financial decision support. During that time, Maverick and Jane is run by his father, Hassan Mia Jhetam, a retail veteran.

And the name?

“The idea was not to just offer a product, but to engage with an audience. The character pair ‘Maverick and Jane’ and the motto ‘Choose Adventure’ encapsulates human spirit, and the will to go beyond the ordinary,” he says.

Jhetam and a team of designers and architects conceptualised the space to include Caesar Stone marble to emulate waves of an ocean, telescope-shaped light fittings and leather strap finishes to mimic a handcrafted suitcase.

Globally, popcorn has become a mainstream snack alternative. It is widely perceived as “better-for-you” than sugary alternatives — ideal for when the 4pm slump settles in.

A number of artisanal popcorn companies have opened shop across the US and UK in recent years.

Global research group Euromonitor International has forecast the global popcorn sector to grow to $10.3bn by 2018, from about $8bn now.

Maverick and Jane’s recipe development and flavours are home grown. But its corn is sourced from Nebraska, and is popped using air and oil methods. “I had clients [at Al Hilal] that were making acquisitions of grain land across the world and I started to become quite familiar with grain, maize and other commodities.

“And then I came across Nebraskan harvested corn, which is probably the best corn globally. The size of the popped corn is larger and that offers a superior taste, texture and mouth feel. The husk, or brown part of the popcorn, also doesn’t catch your throat the way other varieties do.

“We had to jump through hoops to get it here with various authorities. We are also a small start-up so we really needed to prove to farmers that our business model was viable,” he says.

Jhetam’s store also sells popcorn’s sidekick slush, reinvented through flavours like lemongrass and kiwi, and morello cherry.

 Jhetam is eyeing different formats for expansion across SA’s malls — 15m² kiosks to stores between 30m² and 50m².

 And come summer, a new offering is on the cards: Popcorn Softies — gourmet popcorn paired with ice cream. Move over Ben & Jerry’s.

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