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If you had to stand in a 3-foot-by-3-foot vending cart all day, pouring butter and cheese powder over popped corn five days a week, you’d hate it too. “It’s like if you worked at McDonald’s. Maybe you’d eat it for a week, but after that?…,” says the owner and chef at Fresh Popcorn for All Ocassions by Mike, Michael Habteselas.
Habteselas, 52, has been dishing out corn for 14 years in the District. He used to come in from Arlington. Now he lives with his wife and four children in Fairfax. Three days a week he’s at 7th and Maryland SE; two days a week he’s here on New Jersey Avenue by the Navy Yard and Nationals Stadium. At lunchtime, there’s a line at least a dozen people deep that doesn’t let up. Maybe it’s the lack of choices in the neighborhood. Maybe it’s Mike’s sunny disposition. Maybe people just really love freshly popped corn.
“I wish I had a place like that,” he says, pointing to the popular Subway across the street. “I’d do coffee, though,” he says. He’s got experience: Until a year or two ago, he did coffee out of a cart in the a.m. and popcorn in the p.m. Then Starbucks moved in and, well, he wanted to spend more time going over his kids’ homework with them, anyway. He carts the schoolbooks they don’t need to work with him in a cardboard box and studies up so he’s on top of what they’re learning.
“Who’s got chemistry,” I ask, taking a look. “The 9th grader.” How’s her grades? “Straight A’s….They do good. All of them,” he says. “I do this four or five hours a day because it’s a living, but I like to be home with them.”