Betting Big On D.c.'s Next Big Snack Craze (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Betting Big On D.C.'s Next Big Snack Craze

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
We turn now to another story about financial risk, this time in D.C.'s snack scene.

MS. KRISTIE ARSLAN

00:00:08
I'm Kristie Arslan.

MR. RICH ARSLAN

00:00:09
And I'm Rich Arslan. We're the co-owners of Popped Republic, gourmet popcorn.

SHEIR

00:00:13
If you haven't heard of Popped Republic, that's probably because the Arslan's haven't yet opened their doors. And there are a lot of doors, mind you. They're launching a food truck, a brick and mortar store and an online store too all while taking care of their two young kids. Emily Friedman toured the Popped Republic kitchen in Alexandria to find out how a kernel of an idea has lead the Arslan's to put their careers on the line.

MS. EMILY FRIEDMAN

00:00:37
When it comes to talking about their business, the Arslan's are pretty honest about their intentions. They want to hit the jackpot.

ARSLAN

00:00:44
We were thinking like that, like, what could be the next big thing. We talked about different business ideas for how many years, four years?

ARSLAN

00:00:51
Yeah.

ARSLAN

00:00:51
For four years and we were thinking, okay, well, cupcakes were big. Then we started noticing pie, all of a sudden, there was frozen yogurt everywhere.

ARSLAN

00:01:00
You know, I read an article about popcorn. So I started digging a little bit deeper and I saw that there was gourmet popcorn shops. And, you know, I shared it with Kristie and we said, let's go for it."

FRIEDMAN

00:01:12
At the time, Kristie was pregnant with their second child so they kept their full time jobs, Rich in the pharmaceuticals industry and Kristie at the National Association for the self-employed, which she says makes her extra aware of the challenges of starting a new business. So every day after work, they'd come home and moonlight as the co-CEO's of Popped Republic.

ARSLAN

00:01:34
The grand tour.

FRIEDMAN

00:01:35
Rich walks from their office back into the production area. Over the next few days, he says, the walls will be painted, the appliances hooked up and a glass storefront installed where there's now a retractable garage.

ARSLAN

00:01:48
Yeah, if you look right over here, this is what's known as your hopper and this is where all of the raw kernels will go into.

FRIEDMAN

00:01:54
Rich picks up a 50 pound bag of kernels.

ARSLAN

00:01:58
(unintelligible) you got it right going on there. It's 50 pounds worth.

FRIEDMAN

00:02:01
Their popcorn popper makes 23 pounds of popcorn an hour. And Rich explains they're actually different types of kernels for each type of popcorn. Some kernels are better for caramel corn, chocolate drizzle and some are better for savory flavors like butter, cheddar, spicy jalapeno and coconut curry.

ARSLAN

00:02:19
The greatest thing about popcorn is that it's a very versatile product and you can kind of do anything with it. So we'll do packaging of product and ship product all over the country, hopefully. You name it, we'll do it.

FRIEDMAN

00:02:30
The Arslan's funding their venture with their own cash and a small business loan. They asked for advice from dozens of popcorn entrepreneurs all over the country. They visited the places where their equipment was being manufactured and worked on their business plan with an organization dedicated to helping small business owners succeed. All in all, from the real estate rent, the food truck and the $12,000 hot air popper, this business costs about $200,000. That's why, for now, Kristie's keeping her full time job and the benefits that come along with it.

ARSLAN

00:03:04
And that's, I think, pretty typical. A lot of businesses out there, where you have one spouse who works full time and just helps out on the side.

ARSLAN

00:03:12
And then the other spouse goes off and tries to start a crazy business and...

ARSLAN

00:03:18
Sometimes you just have to take a risk and see what's going to happen.

SHEIR

00:03:25
Even when you do everything by the book, there are still risks you might not see coming, like, competition.

MS. KRISTINA KERN

00:03:33
I woke up last October and I thought, popcorn, D.C. doesn't have a popcorn store. They don't have a popcorn anything. I love popcorn. I'm going to take it to the next level.

SHEIR

00:03:44
Kristina Kern is the owner of Stella's PopKern, a food truck selling high end gourmet popcorn. She launched her food truck in mid-February and is sold out of popcorn, nearly every day.

KERN

00:03:57
Hey. Good how are you lady?

FRIEDMAN

00:04:00
Popcorn's a big part of Kristina's life. When she was little, she and her mother would have popcorn dinners where they would mix up different flavors. Her last name, Kern, means kernel in German.

KERN

00:04:11
I've had popcorn in my life for a long time.

FRIEDMAN

00:04:15
When I asked her about Popped Republic, Kern says she's open to the idea of two popcorn trucks on the street, not thrilled but open to it.

KERN

00:04:23
You know, competition is never a bad thing in business.

FRIEDMAN

00:04:27
Rich and Kristie Arslan found out about their competition, just days before I came to their shop. As we talk about it, they look a little disappointed.

ARSLAN

00:04:35
We can, maybe, have some popcorn wars in the future with flavor battles and this and that.

FRIEDMAN

00:04:39
Rich says it's hard to see someone selling popcorn first. But as one of the oldest snacks out there, it's not that surprising.

ARSLAN

00:04:47
Let's say that our business totally fails, I always have the pharmaceutical career to fall back on, Kristie has her career, but we're not going to fail. Go big or go home.

FRIEDMAN

00:04:58
And if popcorn is going to be D.C.'s next big thing, this is probably just the beginning of some fierce competition. I'm Emily Friedman.

SHEIR

00:05:12
You can find out more about Popped Republic and Stella's PopKern on our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

00:05:36
After the break, pondering the risks of living near a superfund site.

MR. JIM CARROLL

00:05:41
In 1984, Baltimore County came out and found a lot of surface material that needed to be disposed of. And that's when we discovered hazardous substances were present on the site.

SHEIR

00:05:51
That story and more, coming your way on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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