Combat Boots To Caramel Popcorn: A Veteran's Journey to Small Business Owner

by Stacey McClellan on November 08, 2017

On November 10, 1775, the United States Marine Corps was established by the Continental Congress in a pub in Philadelphia known as Tun Tavern.  On May 13, 1938, it was declared by Congress that November 11 would become the federal holiday known as Veteran’s Day.  And on February 26, 2015, we opened Popcorn Friday.  What do these three things have in common?  

Answer: My husband, and proud owner, of Popcorn Friday. MSgt Dan Schrubb, USMC Retired.

One of the things our customers ask the most is a how Marine combat veteran and his wife  came to open a popcorn shop in the Texas Hill Country, but to answer that question, let me go back to the beginning…

Daniel Schrubb was born in California many years ago (I will refrain from mentioning which year of our Lord that was) while his father, also a military veteran, was stationed at El Toro.  Growing up in a military family, he grew accustomed to moving around, but finally his family ended up in Pittsburg, Texas, where he graduated from high school.  As many 17 and 18 year olds do, Dan hoped to leave east Texas and make his own way and, hopefully, see a bit of the world.  He decided to set out on this path by way of the U.S. Army.  He served 4 years as an infantry rifleman, with deployments to such places as Sinai, Egypt and the DMZ area of South Korea.  After his contract was complete, he transferred to the army reserves for another 4 years, while working as a construction engineer near Dallas.  

Okay, but how does an 8-year army soldier end up in the Marine Corps? Easy.  You see, when he went to reenlist in the reserves, they required some paperwork that, due to his moves, he couldn’t find.  And apparently, they couldn’t produce them either.  After being asked to find the paperwork, he marched next door and enlisted in the Marine Corps.  Who wouldn’t?!  Ha!

The thing about the Marine Corps is that they don’t care where you come, where you’re going, where you’ve been, or what you’ve done; everyone starts at the beginning with boot camp. Along with beginning anew in the Marine Corps, Dan took on a new MOS (Military Occupational Specialty). His new job in the Marine Corps was a combat photographer, specializing in motion media, or in layman’s terms: a videographer.  Years from now, when the History Channel has a documentary about Marine Corps engagements conducted during Operation Iraqi Freedom I, some of that footage may well have been taken by MSgt Daniel Schrubb, USMC Retired.

I met Dan in 1998 when he was stationed at Miramar, CA.  Back then, it was a bit taboo, but we met online. We married in my hometown of El Centro, California in 2000, and the whirlwind of Marine Corps life began.

I was born and raised in the desert of southern California, but having grown up near so many military installations, I knew a little about what getting involved and falling in love with a career Marine would entail, but serving in the military and being married to the military are not for the feint of heart or spirit.  You will likely move away from family and friends, starting over, in essence, every few years.  It’s one thing to simply know what to expect, but it’s an entirely different thing to experience it.  After we were married, life took off.  

Our first duty station took us to Syracuse, New York.  Dan was accepted into the Military Motion Media Studies program at Syracuse University.  That’s right.  This desert girl went and lived in New York.  It was a one-year program, in which we got to live like college students, as well as newlyweds, while still being on active duty in the Marine Corps.  I didn’t particularly care for the winter season and all that snow, but like so many things in the Marine Corps, it was over before we knew it, and we were assigned to Camp Pendleton, California.  

Like so many women at that time, I married my Marine during peacetime, but that peace was shattered on the morning of September 11, 2001.  I know that each of my readers remembers where they were that day.  I know you remember the shock and the revulsion and the overwhelming sense of sadness at something so tragic and horrific happening here in our great country.  I’ve heard people compare it to what our grandparents must have felt on December 7, 1941.  A similarly pleasant day that started out as any other, but ended much differently than anyone could have imagined.

Camp Pendleton, like every other military installation across the country, went on lockdown.  Everyone was glued to their TVs or radios while sitting in traffic.  It was so hard to comprehend that anyone would do this to us. This is America!  That level of terror isn’t supposed to happen.  

But it did, and everything about our lives changed after that.

Our daughter, Natalie, was born in 2002, and in 2003, Dan deployed to Iraq with the 1st Marine Division under the command of Gen. James Mattis and Gen. John Kelly.  You might recognize those names.  Gen. Mattis now serves as the Secretary of Defense, and Gen. Kelly is the White House Chief of Staff under President Donald Trump.  

I’m not sure I can adequately express what Iraq was like for Dan.  I do know that he was there, every day of his 7-month tour, documenting combat operations for posterity.  He was there every day, making a positive connection with the Iraqi people.  Those memories that have been forever captured on the film of his camera and of his memory, and he would tell you that they were some of the most rewarding moments of his life.

As the seasons came and went and time rolled on, in 2004, we left Camp Pendleton and moved to Amarillo, Texas.  Dan was assigned to Recruiting Station Albuquerque’s Amarillo recruiting sub-station, aka: recruiting office.  This was at the height of Operation Iraqi Freedom I, and it was good to be in Texas--a state that loves our military and loves Marines.  Recruiting duty isn’t a Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. job like some would think.  The hours were long, tedious, and stressful.  Imagine sitting in the living room of a 17-year-old’s home, talking to his or her parents about why joining the Marine Corps is a good move for their child while field reporters talk about the day’s casualties in Iraq playing on CNN and Fox News in the background.  But never let it be said that Marines can’t handle the hard tasks.  RS Albuquerque made mission, meeting their recruitment goals month after month, year after year, and I’m so proud that my husband was part of that team.  Despite the long days and weeks of recruiting duty, our family grew during this time. In 2005, our son, Justin, was born.  Of the five of us in our family, he’s the only one with a Texas birth certificate.  

In 2007, we moved on to the next assignment--Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.  We loved living there.  We reconnected with friends and made new ones.  We became more involved in our church.   Fortunately, Dan was in a non-deployable unit during that time, which was a bit of a reprieve from the grueling pace of the previous 6 years.  

After North Carolina, we went to Quantico, Virginia.  I don’t know how many of you have been to the Washington, DC area, but wow!  There’s just so much to see and do.  It’s such an educational place to live, and it was great to live there with our kids.  In 2010, we added our youngest child, Mila, to the family.  

In  2012-2013, Dan was deployed to the Helmand Province of Afghanistan, serving as the Force Protection Fielding Officer. His assignment brought him into daily contact with a unit of bomb detection dogs, primarily labrador retrievers.  A few might consider these dogs as just animals.  Some people think of them as just another tool in the war on terror.  Dan will tell you differently.  They are such remarkable dogs.  They are Canine Marines.  They protect Marines, saving their lives on a regular basis when in the field, and they boost the morale of every Marine that meets them while in garrison.  They serve; they get the job done. They embody the motto “Semper Fidelis.”

It was in Quantico where the next chapter of our lives began to take shape, and I’m brought back to the question of how a Marine combat veteran and his wife came to open a popcorn shop in the Texas Hill Country.

It’s not unusual for career Marines to often think about what they’ll do when they leave the Marine Corps.  Most join the military at such a young age, whether they enlist at 17 or 18 years old or go to Officer Candidate School at 21 or 22 years of age.  Either route into the Corps means that when you retire, you’re still young enough to have a whole new career.  Dan knew for a long time that when he was ready to hang up his cover and put away his combat boots that he really wanted to work for himself.  Be his own boss.  I always thought it made sense.  I mean, Marines spend their entire careers answering to someone, and often several someones, no matter what rank you wear, and there’s part of that Marine that longs for the day when they don’t have to do that.  You don’t need permission to enter or exit a room.  You don’t need permission to take some vacation time.  You don’t have to wait for the needs of the Corps to be decided to find out where they’re moving you to next.  Shoot!  You don’t have to move if you don’t want to.  You don’t have to miss holidays, birthdays, or special events.  There’s a certain freedom that comes with retirement.  However, there’s a lot to thank the Marine Corps for, and those things can leave a pretty astonishing gap that you’ve got to figure out how to fill.  The Marine Corps is a steady, reliable paycheck.  There’s great benefits.  There’s the personal satisfaction you get from knowing that you picked up a weapon and stood a post to defend your country and the Marine standing next to you.  There’s the community and the camaraderie that bonds us to those we’ve met in our journey.  

Dan’s brother and brother-in-law each own and operate their own businesses, and Dan always admired that.  It was never really a question of whether we’d start our own business when he retired, because we have felt that this was God’s direction for us; it was a question of what kind of business we’d start.  We bounced around different ideas over the years, including real estate photography, but it was all relegated to the mental file of “save for later.”

The problem with the “save for later” file is that eventually “later” comes calling.  Not every service member knows unequivocally how long they will serve.  I would even venture to say that for most, there’s a moment, like a lightening bolt from Heaven, that hits them and they just know it’s time.  As absurd as it is to consider, I’ve often thought about military service members compared to professional football players.  You know, those athletes don’t usually play football too much further past their mid-30’s, and that’s because of the toll their profession takes on their bodies.  The same can be said for our troops.  Except the career service members play for 20, 30, and sometimes more years.  It does take a toll, and sometimes that toll is visible and sometimes it simply isn’t.  

Dan’s lightning bolt was in early 2014 when he almost had a heart attack.  Talk about a wake up call!  The only time I can remember being so worried about him, and quite honestly scared, was during his combat deployments, but even then it felt different.  After the event, Dan became non-deployable, and for a Marine that pretty much makes the decision for you.  I had a Marine tell me once that to be a Marine and know you can never deploy is like training for years for the big game and never leaving the bench.  28 years of military service.  28 years of dedicated service, sacrifice, commitment, loyalty, and camaraderie.  It only takes a moment to know it’s time to be done.  

No regrets, though.  The Marine Corps and the military way of life taught us so much.  We learned to bloom where we were planted.  Growing as a couple and as a family when you move every 2-3 years you learn that you make your own joy.  You sometimes have to step outside your comfort zone to meet people, make new friends, become a contributing member of the community. Your kids may never have the traditional holiday experiences that you did growing up, like spending Christmas with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, but they know how to make friends in any environment, and they aren’t afraid to do so.  It was always hard knowing that the needs and mission of the Marine Corps came first, but our family was always a priority.  These moves, these separations, these trials taught us about personal growth and brought us even closer.  You won’t meet a tighter-knit family than us.

Along with retirement came figuring out and making plans for the next chapter of our lives. We were keeping all of our options open.  Dan was applying to a variety of jobs and even considered using his GI Bill to go back to school.  However, when a Marine preps for retirement, part of that process is Corps-mandated transition courses that help the military member and spouse prepare for life after the military. I had a friend in Quantico who knew that Dan was interested in opening his own business.  She happened to know a retired Marine who owned and operated a popcorn shop in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and she suggested we talk to him.  I was skeptical, but we agreed to at least have a conversation.  And that’s how it started.  After meeting with this retired Marine and store owner, it snowballed.  He agreed to consult with us about the process of starting our own store. 



We had long decided we wanted to retire in Texas.  We had vacationed in San Antonio and the Hill Country years before, and fell in love.  What’s not to love?  Texas is a patriotic place, with such love and support for its military.  It’s economically friendly, the cost of living is agreeable, and it’s a good place to start a small business. 

We knew where we wanted to live.  The Texas Hill Country.  

We knew we wanted to open our own business, and after consulting with the owner of a popcorn shop in Virginia, we knew that’s what we wanted to do.  

Opening your own business, much like serving in the military or being married to it, isn’t for the feint of heart.  It is a process, and there is a learning curve; however, it is a path many veterans are taking.  According to a recent article released by Navy Federal Credit Union:

America’s 21.4 million veterans own almost 10 percent of small businesses across the country! Plus, former servicemembers are twice as likely to own a business as civilians.

Skills from a military career – integrity, discipline, and the ability to prepare for the unexpected – translate well into business ownership. After all, the world of business requires tenacity, hard work and the ability to weather any storm.**

Marines certainly have that in spades. 

It might have had some twists and unexpected turns at times, but all roads led us where we are today.  We are among the transitioning military veterans and families that decided to take a chance on a new adventure and open our own business, putting Dan's Marine Corps ability to improvise, adapt, and overcome to a new purpose. 

MSgt Daniel “Top Pop” Schrubb, USMC served his last day on active duty on December 31, 2014, and we opened our doors at Popcorn Friday in February 2015.  We look back on our time with the Marine Corps with fondness and pride, and we look toward to the future with hope and determination.  This Veteran’s Day we hope that you will not only thank a veteran for their service, but support them as they transition to the next chapters in their lives.  Show your support by visiting veteran-owned businesses like ours.  And you know....a great place to do that is to stop by Popcorn Friday and say hello to Top Pop!  You can almost always find him there, loving every moment.

by Lorenzo on November 10, 2017

A great story! Congratulations on your success! We love you, Schrubb Family! Semper Fidelis!

by Charles Bartley on November 09, 2017

Great story , would love e to buy your popcorn but there is no contact information .

by Charles Bartley on November 09, 2017

Great story , would love e to buy your popcorn but there is no contact information .


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