With the opening of Mimi & Papa’s Gourmet Popcorn and Homemade Ice Cream, George and Phyllis Murray are fulfilling their longtime dream of working side by side.
At this point in his career, there seems to be little George Murray hasn’t done. His many accomplishments range from early days serving in the Air Force, to decades working in the corporate world, followed by many years spent as a Leland-area business owner. Now with retirement on the horizon, Murray is finally getting the chance to check one last item off of his personal bucket list: working alongside his wife, Phyllis.
With the opening of the couple’s new shop, Mimi & Papa’s Gourmet Popcorn and Homemade Ice Cream, life couldn’t be sweeter for these high school sweethearts as they bring a little bit of sugar and a lot of smiles to Leland.
Murray first began dreaming of opening an ice cream shop 17 years ago, when he decided to leave his longstanding career in financial accounting and start his own business. As residents of Magnolia Greens, he and Phyllis saw a need in the community for a place to buy their favorite frozen treat. However, the timing didn’t feel right, so Murray instead opened a custom framing shop, which became the first commercial business in Waterford.
Inspired by his love of art and lucrative hobby of pencil drawing (he’s gained notoriety over the years as the licensed artist for the Andy Griffith Show as well as for his other celebrity portraitures,) a framing business seemed like a good fit. The shop later moved locations from Waterford to Brunswick Forest to Village Road, eventually transforming into what is now Murray’s Signs and Graphics.
Through all these business changes, however, the thought of one day opening an ice cream shop never left Murray’s mind. When Phyllis retired from her job as a dental office manager last November, the couple saw an opportunity to finally take the leap.
“We knew we wanted to work together, so I decided to sell the sign business this past spring,” Murray says. “We just wanted to do something different. We should be retired, but neither one of us wants to sit home. We want to stay active, and we want to have fun.”
The name of Murray’s new shop stems from the nicknames his two granddaughters used as children when referring to him and Phyllis. As for the popcorn part, the couple decided to add the offering to their menu because of their shared passion for the snack.
“Phyllis and I can’t watch a movie without eating popcorn, we just love it so much,” Murray says.
They will cook all the popcorn in-house and offer flavors like butter, caramel, cheese, salt and vinegar, sweet and salty, Old Bay and others.
“We’ll be asking our customers what flavors they’d like to see,” Murray says. “If you can imagine it, we’ll try to make it.”
The shop offers 21 flavors of locally made ice cream ranging from traditional vanilla, chocolate and strawberry to favorites such as salted caramel, double chocolate, coconut, coffee and peanut butter. Mimi & Papa’s also serves milkshakes, slushies, sundaes and waffle cones made in-house. Lucky visitors might even get a chance to see a little magic or get a personalized balloon adorned with Murray’s artwork.
“My grandchildren grew up with my antics of doing card tricks and making things disappear, and they and their friends would call me the ‘magic man,’” Murray say. “I used to keep a bag of balloons in the cabinets at my businesses, and if kids came in, I’d pull out a balloon, blow it up and then draw a Peanuts character or something else they wanted on it. I told Phyllis that selling popcorn and ice cream means we’ll have a lot of kids in here, so I’ll be able to do some of my silly stuff again. I sure do enjoy that.”
As the past president of the North Brunswick Chamber of Commerce and founder of the Leland Area Rotary Club, Murray is no stranger to the ins and outs of running a business.
His ties to the community run deep, as do the friendships he’s made over the years through his business interactions and desire to help entrepreneurs succeed.
“I’ve always enjoyed running my own business, because I’ve met so many young, professional people trying to start businesses here in the community,” Murray says. “They ended up in my framing shop, and we would become good friends over the years, even though I was the old man of the group, and we shared a lot of advice on different things. It’s been a great thing being a part of this community.”
Brunswick County District Attorney Jon David is excited to support his longtime friend’s new venture.
“George is a pioneer in the Leland community who opened up one of the first commercial establishments long before Walmart and Harris Teeter came to town,” David says. “As a longtime resident of Leland and a founder of the Leland Area Rotary Club, I know George has deep roots that will serve the business well on the road ahead.”
In the 54 years Murray and Phyllis have been married, they’ve never had the chance to work side by side until now. Opening up Mimi & Papa’s Gourmet Popcorn and Homemade Ice Cream is all about finding joy in life and having fun together, something the couple has been dreaming of for quite a while.
“The best part is having Phyllis by my side,” Murray says, “She’s my partner, and we’re happy to be working together for the first time.”
Phyllis is also very excited about embarking on this new adventure with her husband, and she believes opening their new shop is the perfect way for them both to keep busy.
“After 54 years together, George still makes me laugh every day,” Phyllis says. “We hope we can put a smile on people’s faces as they come in for our sweet and salty treats. We look forward to serving our friends and hope to make many new ones through this journey.”
Want to go?
Mimi & Papa’s Gourmet Popcorn and Homemade Ice Cream
324 Village Road NE, Leland