It isn't every day that a dental hygienist gets into the gourmet popcorn business, but owner Amber Juliano has done just that with her business partner and mother, Debby Horrocks. The pair opened up Pop-n-Corn Gourmet Popcorn & Soda Aug. 1 in the Spokane Valley Mall.
Incorporated as Pop-n-Corn LLC, the shop started with 50 flavors of popcorn and has begun to narrow down the selection based on popularity. It plans to have 30 flavors available once the final selections are made.
Along with the popcorn, the shop offers about 100 varieties of soda. It leases a small space on the second floor close to Sears and employees two full-time employees and one part-time employee in addition to Juliano and Horrocks.
"We started talking about this idea and said we're just going to go for it and start doing something we're passionate about," Juliano says.
She says the gourmet popcorn venture was two years in the making. Juliano and Horrocks spent that time researching the location and product line, coming up with concepts, and testing popcorn recipes.
Juliano had worked as a dental hygienist for about six years before opening the shop with Horrocks, who had been in the pet grooming and services business for 35 years.
She says she developed carpal tunnel, and neither she nor Horrocks could keep doing what they were doing full time. Originally from Spokane, Juliano had lived in Las Vegas for about 10 years and decided to move back in the area to be closer to family and to raise her children. She says she hopes to continue being a dental hygienist part time.
"I still want to tell people to brush and floss," Juliano says. "It's okay to have sweets as long as you brush and floss."
Juliano says the pair looked at both Northtown Mall and Spokane Valley Mall. They chose the latter location because it seemed more accessible between downtown Spokane and Coeur d'Alene, Horrocks says. Northtown didn't appear to have as much foot traffic, she says.
Juliano says a day at Pop-n-Corn starts with baking and popping popcorn.
"We start with caramel and cheese popcorn because we don't keep those overnight," she says.
Employees then make any varieties of popcorn that are out of stock while also melting chocolate to be used as drizzle for some varieties.
They then package any gift boxes that were ordered.
She says one of the more popular flavors is caramel, but other customer favorites include more unconventional options such as dill pickle and buffalo wing.
"Hopefully we can keep doing something different," Juliano says.
The idea to open a gourmet popcorn shop sprung up while Juliano lived in Las Vegas, Nev. for 10 years.
"Popcorn places have become a trend there," she says. "They've been popping up everywhere, literally."
Along with their novelty soda and popcorn selection, the company offers popcorn tins representing different Inland Northwest schools and regional sports teams. The pair plan on expanding their tin selection to include more college and NFL teams.
"We understand that not everyone is from Washington or a Washington (teams) fan," Juliano says.
Juliano says Pop-n-Corn tries to keep everything natural and from the Inland Northwest. She says Pop-n-Corn buys all of its popcorn supplies from two regional vendors. The store supplies were also through a Spokane restaurant supplier. Extracts and nuts are also from Inland Northwest suppliers.
Many of the soda brands stocked by Pop-n-Corn are made in microbrewery facilities, Horrocks says. "A lot of them are long-neck, old-fashioned bottles."
Juliano says Pop-n-Corn receives its soda inventory from four national and international distributors. One of the more popular brands, Pop Shoppe, is produced only in Canada.
"Pop Shoppe was a personal choice because I remembered them as a kid," Juliano says.
Many of the soda options are retro-themed, and they're included because it's more difficult for customers to find them anywhere else, Horrocks says.
In its popcorns, one of the more unusual products offered at Pop-n-Corn is called Nitro-pop.
"When we tried it at a store, we fell in love with it," Juliano says.
Nitro-pop works by taking any caramel or candied popcorn and freezing it using liquid nitrogen at a temperature of minus 325 degrees for about 20 seconds. Juliano says they make it to order.
"It makes it cold and crisp and taste really good," Juliano says. "Once it thaws, it stays in its original state and doesn't get soggy."
The product also is known as Dragon's Breath from the fog it gives off, particularly when chewed.
Juliano says the primary source of marketing for Pop-n-Corn has been through social media. Juliano and her mother started a Facebook page for the business nearly two months before Pop-n-Corn opened at the Valley mall. The page features a photo album of available flavors, including cheddar, huckleberry and Reese's. The page had garnered about 70 likes as of the second week in August.
Juliano says the first few weeks of business have gone well for the startup.
"A lot of people have given us positive remarks on Urbanspoon and Facebook," Juliano says. "A lot of people are commenting on how there's a good place to get caramel corn because it's been so long since there's been anything like that in town."
Juliano says she would like to see the company expand within the next few years.
"Hopefully, we're looking to branch out and get a larger store downtown and possibly go into the Northtown Mall," Juliano says.
She also plans to use the company's products to support fundraising efforts at schools and says Pop-n-corn can make its popcorn with school colors.
"We'd like to start that as soon as possible. We just have to come up with a business plan on how that would work for everybody," she says.
Juliano says once the Pop-n-Corn website is up, the company plans on offering the ability to order its products online. She says she hopes to have the website online within the next month. Once the website is launched, it can be found at www.pop-n-corn.com.
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