For our latest guest in the Wichita By E.B. Q&A Series, we are joined by Kirsten Bender, owner of The PopCorner. A locally owned old-fashioned themed business that manufactures and sells gourmet popcorn and other delicacies. With recent expansion and a growing business, I had a chance to conduct a simple Q&A with another one of Wichita’s entrepreneurs.
So with that said, I’d like to welcome Kirsten as the latest interviewee!
Eddy: Thanks for joining us Kirsten! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Kirsten Bender: I have been married about 6 years now and we are expecting our first baby in June. I consider myself to be a foodie and love trying new and unique gourmet foods and restaurants. I grew up in the East Wichita area and graduated high school at Andover Central. I then went to the University of Nebraska and got my degree in Business Management and Marketing.
I always knew I wanted to own my own business someday, I just never knew when I was younger what would inspire me. I have always enjoyed being creative with food, for example, cooking and baking so I thought maybe I could do something along those lines. I wrote a few business plans in college for restaurant concepts but something was missing, I just wasn’t passionate about any of them.
Eddy: So your love of food, cooking baking led you to the popcorn business? What made you decide to enter in that area?
Kirsten: My first “real” job in high school was at Vic’s Corn Popper in Andover, KS. I loved that job so much because I got to interact with customers and learn how to make the popcorn. I also felt inspired working for a small and local business and could physically see the difference that my work was making each and every day. I told those owners when I was 18 years old that if they ever were thinking about selling their business to give me a call first.
I was fortunate because a few years after I graduated from college and was working an unfulfilled corporate job, they reached out to me to see if I wanted to purchase their business. Of course I was beyond excited and said yes. I immediately got to work on a business plan for a popcorn store concept. I purchased their assets rather than their business because I wanted to rebrand the business into a concept that we could someday expand throughout the Wichita area and beyond. I loved the fact that we were able to keep a corner store location. For me, Gourmet popcorn evoked an Old-Timey classic era and I wanted my business to be themed around this Old Fashioned feel. I also wanted our business name to explain clearly what we do best-Popcorn! After some brainstorming with my family members, the name The Popcorner was born.
I am now proud to say I employ and get to work with every member of my immediate family in some capacity-Mom and Dad help me run day-to-day operations, my husband manages QuickBooks, my brother does deliveries and pick ups, and my sister designs all graphic and interior store decor and design elements when she is not working her day job as an interior designer. We also have about 20 other great part-time team members and an amazing full-time manager of our West location.
Eddy: As a person who loves creativity, I loved the name Popcorner when I first heard it. It was a great play on words given your location.
A couple of years ago, you made the decision to expand. There are now two locations. What brought upon the decision to expand?
Kirsten: With the help of my family, we were able to expand and test the West side market from October 2016-December 2016 at 21st & Tyler. We didn’t know how things would go over there, so we decided to commit to a holiday “pop-up” location since the months of October-December are historically our busiest sales months of the year. We had such overwhelming support from West Wichita that we were able to keep that store as a permanent location. We <3 West siders!! We recently also were able to obtain our federal trademark of our brand The Popcorner which was another critical step toward further expansion. We hope to someday branch out south (we’re looking at you, Derby) and possibly Oklahoma or other mid-west states if possible. Right now, we are really working on brand consistency with the in-store customer experience and training of staff between the 2 locations.
Eddy: OK, when I take any of my nieces there, they spend what feels like hours trying to decide what they want. The decision gets even tougher with your weekly and seasonal items. When I go into a restaurant, I like to ask my server suggestions on what to order. If a customer comes into the Popcorner, what flavors would you recommend them?
Kirsten: I always recommend our best selling flavor Tuxedo Gourmet. This is our original Caramel Corn recipe drizzled all over with White Chocolate and Milk Chocolate. I also like to recommend my personal favorite flavor Chicago Style which is simply Savory Cheddar popcorn mixed with Old-Time Caramel popcorn. Those sweet & salty ones really get me! Then of course, we always suggest our current Flavor of the Week. This week it is Root Beer Float, and there is always something new to try.
Eddy: As a huge fan of Root Beer Floats, I now have a destination to add to my week’s schedule!
Lastly, it’s one question we always ask Q&A participants. What would you say are your three favorite restaurants in town?
Kirsten: Wow that is a tough question. My favorite thing to do with friends is try new restaurants around town, especially locally owned restaurants. In Wichita, we are blessed with so many good options. A few that we like to frequent are: Wichita Brewing Co, City Bites, Doo Dah Diner, Ziggy’s Pizza, Timbuktu in Andover, and Kobe on the West side (there are so many I just had to narrow it down). I also love to take out of town guests to the Nifty Nut House, Il Primo Coffee, or Churn & Burn.
Eddy: I can’t argue with that, many great selections in your list. We truly are blessed with so many delicious options in town. Kirsten, I want to thank you for taking time from your busy schedule and taking part in our Q&A Series.
Readers, be sure to like The Popcorner on Facebook as well as check out their website for specials, deals and info for what’s going on. Remember they have two locations: (East) 11330 E Central Ave #800 and (West) 2121 N Tyler Rd #141.
If you know of anybody that would be great as a guest of the Wichita By E.B. Q&A Series, feel free to e-mail me at [email protected]. I’m looking for anybody who impacts Wichita in any sort of way whether they be business owners, restaurateurs, volunteers, whomever. Thank you!