Pop in anytimeCover Story
August 8, 2021
Story By: Kyle Galdeira | Photos by: LAWRENCE TABUDLO
When Andrea Tournis-Vagenas and her husband moved to Hawaii from Chicago 10 years ago, life in the islands was great. However, a kernel of the Windy City was missing.
Tournis-Vagenas was craving Garrett Popcorn, a, handcrafted Chicago-style popcorn that is famous for its caramel and cheese mix. The missing blend of tangy cheese and rich caramel popcorn and its familiar sweet aroma served as the inspiration for the birth of Island Popper Gourmet Popcorn.
After planning and perfecting recipes in her kitchen for nine months, Tournis-Vagenas found a food truck on Craigslist and launched the business in 2012. The truck, known affectionately as “Poppy,” served as the business’s home on wheels for seven years until Island Popper expanded to a storefront location on Colburn Street in Kalihi two years ago.
“At the end of the day, I want to make people happy by making the most delicious popcorn they have ever had,” says owner Tournis-Vagenas. “Whether it is for customers to enjoy themselves, to share with their family or to give as a gift, I want to bring on the smiles!”
The Island Popper team recently celebrated its second anniversary at the brick-and-mortar location, which is quite an accomplishment for the small business as it was forced to navigate the unpredictable operating climate brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is a big deal for us, given this last year-and-a-half with COVID, and well, just making it as a small business,” says Tournis-Vagenas.
To honor the company’s loyal customers, and to introduce itself to new popcorn enthusiasts, Island Popper is offering an anniversary special available now through Saturday, Aug. 14. Customers will receive a free paper cone of delicious popcorn with any purchase of $20 or more. The featured popcorn flavor changes weekly, and diners can keep an eye — and their nose — out for this week’s flavor: Curry Cheese.
Customers can reach for their favorite flavored popcorn, including paper cones with Tsunami Mix ($3.50), Big Island Mix ($2.50) or Organic Butter ($2). Maui Mix Cups and Big Island Mix Cups ($10 for four) are also popular, as guests may mix and match flavors throughout the cup set.
Big Island Mix XL Bag ($40 for three, $2 extra to add kakimochi) is another great choice for families or small gatherings. Tournis-Vagenas reminds customers that Island Popper’s sealed cups make great party favors for any occasion and are portioned individually for freshness and safety.
While “Poppy” is still sidelined due to the pandemic, the storefront is open for business with safety precautions in place. Customers may view the menu and order online for in-store or curbside pickup via islandpopper.net, which makes getting one’s popcorn fix simple, as orders can be placed months in advance. At islandpopper. com, orders can be submitted for shipping directly to customers.
“At Island Popper, we take the pandemic very seriously,” Tournis-Vagenas says. “All our employees are fully vaccinated, masks are required by both employees and customers, we have plexiglass dividers at the counter, and hand sanitizer is available to all. We wash our hands pretty much nonstop and ask that customers wait until they exit the shop to enjoy their favorite snacks.”