MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We turn now to another story about financial risk, this time in D.C.'s snack scene.
MS. KRISTIE ARSLAN
I'm Kristie Arslan.
MR. RICH ARSLAN
And I'm Rich Arslan. We're the co-owners of Popped Republic, gourmet popcorn.
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
When it comes to talking about their business, the Arslan's are pretty honest about their intentions. They want to hit the jackpot.
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?
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.
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."
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.
The grand tour.
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.
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.
Rich picks up a 50 pound bag of kernels.
(unintelligible) you got it right going on there. It's 50 pounds worth.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And then the other spouse goes off and tries to start a crazy business and...
Sometimes you just have to take a risk and see what's going to happen.
Even when you do everything by the book, there are still risks you might not see coming, like, competition.
MS. KRISTINA KERN
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.
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.
Hey. Good how are you lady?
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.
I've had popcorn in my life for a long time.
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.
You know, competition is never a bad thing in business.
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.
We can, maybe, have some popcorn wars in the future with flavor battles and this and that.
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.
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.
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.
You can find out more about Popped Republic and Stella's PopKern on our website, metroconnection.org.
After the break, pondering the risks of living near a superfund site.
MR. JIM CARROLL
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.
That story and more, coming your way on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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