Pop-a-roos owner Ephie Johnson, who also serves as president and CEO of the non-profit Neighborhood Christian Centers, already had a full plate when she launched her gourmet popcorn business in 2014.
But the business wasn’t founded as a way to earn extra income. Johnson said she started Pop-a-roos to teach her sons, Jonathan and Andre, a lesson.
“We were trying to teach our children about work ethic and what it meant to start something from the ground up,” Johnson says. “The ministry I run serves 58,000 people. Everything [my children have] ever known has been established and well-known, and they just think that’s natural. But it doesn’t just happen. You have to work hard to get there. We wanted them to see something created out of nothing.”
The original Pop-a-roos is located at 726 North Parkway, and Johnson recently opened a second location in the Central Atrium of Crosstown Concourse. The North Parkway shop serves as the preparation and packaging hub, but it’s also open to the public as a retail location. The Concourse store is devoted solely to retail.
Why popcorn? Johnson grew up eating her father’s homemade popcorn prepared on the stovetop, a childhood memory that inspired her to start hand-popping corn with her sons. That escalated to flavored popcorn, which is the foundation of Pop-a-roos business today.
Boasting more flavors than Baskin-Robbins (“we have over 31,” Johnson says), the offerings range from savory to sweet. Johnson says the Crosstown Concourse location serves 12 flavors on any given day.
Customer favorites like 901 Mix, Sharp Cheddar, Oreo Cheesecake, and Chicago Mix are always available, and special flavors, such as Birthday Cake, Loaded Baked Potato, Banana Pudding, and even Dill Pickle, rotate in and out.
Speaking of pickles, Pop-a-roos also sells Kool-Aid pickles, a Southern delicacy that involves brining dill pickles in the flavored sweetened drink mix. For maximum effect, the Kool-Aid pickles can be washed down with one of Ephie’s Famous Slush-E’s (a 32-ounce slushie, fruity drink served in the same size tub as an order of popcorn).
In an effort to meet the demand for a quick, affordable lunch for Concourse workers, Pop-a-roos also offers a hot dog combo with chips or an 8-ounce popcorn and drink for $3.75.
Pop-a-roos is led by a staff of mostly women, thanks to its philosophy of “popcorn with a purpose.”
“We hire primarily women in need of a new start,” Johnson says. “They’re mostly 35-plus and are trying to get back into life after having children, or they may have fallen on hard times and are looking for a new opportunity. Popcorn is a fun and hospitable way to do that.”
Pop-a-roos’ friendly staff serves up popcorn, pickles, and other items from 11 am-6 pm daily, but Johnson says they occasionally stay open later when there are special events at Crosstown Concourse. Pop-a-roos is also the official popcorn vendor for events in Crosstown Theater, the new performing arts and movie theater operated by Crosstown Arts.