Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: Island PopperRestaurant Insider
September 20, 2020
Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: MARK GALACGAC
ANNE LEE speaks with Island Popper owner ANDREA TOURNIS~VAGENAS
It’s been about a year since Island Popper opened a brick-and-mortar location on Colburn Street, but the iconic snack brand has been cooking up plenty of popcorn since 2012. With tons of flavors and specials, Island Popper has quickly become the go-to place — whether picking up in store or ordering online — for the best gourmet popcorn.
This week, I sit down with Island Popper owner Andrea Tournis-Vagenas, who fills Dining Out readers in on what’s new with the shop and some special holiday treats that are in the works.
AL: How did you get into the popcorn industry?
ATV: My husband and I moved here in 2011 from Chicago for his job, and I missed eating handcrafted popcorn from Garrett Popcorn Shops. I spent about nine months making recipes in my kitchen and found a plain white empty box truck on Craigslist. It took six months to get the truck set up, putting machines in and painting it. Once it was done, we named her Poppy. We hit the ground running in 2012, and Island Popper was born. Some of my best days were selling our gourmet popcorn out of Poppy. You would see us at farmers markets, events, all kinds of different things.
AL: Does Island Popper have an executive chef?
ATV: We do. His name is Nelson Gaspar, and he is amazing. We collaborate and curate the flavors, and he puts it together. Nelson has a baking background, and was with JJ Squared Bakery for 13 years before coming to work with me about a year ago.
AL: What are some of the top sellers?
ATV: For the single-flavor popcorn, it would be the original furikake. We make it a little sweet and a little salty. We coat it and toss the furikake into the organic butter popcorn, so it all sticks together. And the real cheddar cheese popcorn. We use real cheddar cheese that is dehydrated and then crushed into a powder. If you like cheese, you will love this popcorn. The most popular mix-wise is the Tsunami Mix, which is the Original Furikake with organic butter and mochi crunch, and Maui Mix (caramel and real cheddar cheese mix), which is real Chicago-style.
AL: What are some of your specialties?
ATV: Every week, we have a featured flavor. Last week’s flavor was Haupia Chocolate Crisp. This was one of the flavors from last holiday.
AL: What makes your popcorn unique?
ATV: For our gourmet popcorn, we start out with the best quality ingredients through the whole process, from the kernels to the oil we use to pop the corn (we use 100 percent coconut oil shipped in from Nebraska). The kernels are non-GMO and we use two different types of kernels: mushroom (for caramel) and butterfly (for the butter and cheese popcorn). We start from scratch with every order.
AL: How can customers get your popcorn?
ATV: We have small ($5), medium ($7), large ($9) and extra-large ($18) bags — add 50 cents for mixes, $1 for mochi crunch small-large and $2 for mochi crunch extra large. We also have 24-ounce cups: single flavor ($3), and mixed cup ($3.50-$3.75). For this month’s special, you can get three large bags for $20 and three extra-large bags for $40. We also have smaller party sizes for favors.
AL: How has COVID-19 impacted your business?
ATV: We reopened, and I feel lucky to say that we have been surviving. We rebuilt our website islandpopper.com because of the demand of internet orders. Our store is bright and fun, and I feel fortunate that we have been able to stay alive during this and are able to provide some happiness for people. Popcorn makes people happy and smile — we need distraction from reality right now.
AL: What is your favorite part of the job?
ATV: To be able to stay in touch with our customers and create new flavors that keep our customers interactive. Our customers are so sweet. A lot of the same people that were supporting me from my popcorn truck days, come find me here at our storefront location.
AL: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
ATV: We will be bringing back our Pumpkin Spice Pecan flavor this fall. We are also doing some adorable fun Halloween cups and specials to try to make it as fun as possible for the kids. In addition, we are testing out holiday flavors: peppermint chocolate crisp and maple walnut/hazelnut chocolate concoction.
We will also have a big assortment of items to create gift baskets ($25-$150) for the holidays. Order and create on islandpopper.net, and we will bring it out to your car curbside. There is a toothpick on each bag. That’s a final touch we add just in case you have to get the furikake out of your teeth.