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Cover Story

April 21, 2024

Story By: Dining Out Team | Photos by: Anthony Consillio

Discover unique flavors at Island Popper.

Few snacks are as satisfying and addictive as a bag of buttery, crunchy popcorn. Whether sweet or salty (or both!) this treat tastes best when it’s made fresh from scratch with premium ingredients — the way it’s done at Island Popper. Every batch is handcrafted with quality and care in mind.

Owner Andrea Tournis-Vagenas has been making it this way for more than 10 years. She started out with a food truck in 2012, then opened her brick-and-mortar location in 2019.

Originally from the Windy City, she was inspired to bring the cheese and caramel flavors of Chicago-style popcorn to her new island home. Today, Island Popper’s menu also includes lots of local-style favorites, including furikake, mochi crunch and Hawaiian sea salt.

We caught up with Tournis-Vagenas as she was gearing up for the 2024 grad season.

DO: How do you come up with ideas for different popcorn flavors?

AT: We really listen to our customers and our own bellies. What our customers respond well to and what they ask for is very important. We also pay attention to what flavors are trending and, of course, test things out of curiosity. We put the Island Popper gourmet twist on everything to make sure it is to our standards.

DO: How did you learn to make gourmet popcorn?

AT: I always was the designated popcorn maker at home as a kid, but as far as Island Popper goes, I did a lot of trial and error. I spent nine months testing in my apartment before opening my truck in 2012, then had to adjust all of the recipes for much larger quantities. After 12 years, still we’re learning every day.

DO: What’s your favorite Island Popper flavor?

AT: When I started out, Chicago-style caramel and cheese was my absolute favorite. That’s why I started making popcorn.

Now, it’s our Kauai Mix (original furikake and real cheddar cheese) and I have to have mochi crunch in there. I have definitely adapted.

DO: Graduation season is right around the corner. Tell us about your popcorn lei.

AT: Our popcorn lei ($10, add $1 for mochi crunch and $1 for the featured flavor) are next level! They are filled with our award-winning popcorn that is guaranteed to please. They stay fresh for six weeks, so no need for the grad to rush and eat it right away. They are available in every flavor mix we offer and a variety of ribbon colors to accommodate each school.

DO: What other party favors do you offer for celebrating graduates?

AT: Our sealed cups make the perfect party favor. They hold 2.5 cups of popcorn and stay fresh for two weeks. We have them on special for grad season (s$12 for four cups, add $1 for mochi crunch and $1 for the featured flavor). We also offer party favor bags that hold a cup of popcorn and stay fresh for six weeks. Those start at $2.50. Both cups and flavor bags are available in all our flavors and mixes.

DO: How should customers order to ensure they get their graduation treats in time?

AT: Preorder is always the name of the game. Give us a call or just pop into the shop to place your order. We always accept walk-ins. Let us know what you’d like and give us a few minutes to prepare it for you. The lei and all of our party favor options are available online as well. For in-shop pickup head to islandpopper.net. If you want to ship a lei or two head to shop.islandpopper.com.

DO: The Island Popper special for the week of April 22 is Mac Nut Caramel. What makes this flavor stand out?

AT: Mac Nut Caramel ($20 for four cups, $10 for small bag) is one of our most popular and requested featured flavors. We in-house roast whole and half mac nuts, then craft our scratch-made caramel to coat the mac nuts and our non-GMO popcorn that is popped in 100% coconut oil. The flavor is just outstanding and on another level. No mac nut crumbs here! It’s gourmet all the way. (Pro tip: Island Popper will be bringing this popular special flavor back for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.)

Honolulu, HI 96817

Hawaii's Best
Hawaii's Best