Grandma-led popcorn party business aims to build name for itself

Ranae Pearce, left, and Lisa Killian.

Ranae Pearce and Lisa Killian had everything they needed to launch a popcorn party business in early 2020, except for good timing.

The two grandmas – their term – were ready to start “Popped” to provide gourmet popcorn bars at weddings, reunions, tailgates, showers, quinceañeras and other festive gatherings. The business leverages the founders’ connections to Killian Korn, maker of gourmet-glazed popcorn treats.

Pearce, who lives in Pasco, and Killian, who lives in Kennewick, had a license, materials and even a website all set to go. Of course, something else popped: Covid-19.

Events dried up with Popped sitting on the starting line.

“It was a terrible setback. We didn’t get the thrill of starting our business,” Pearce said.

Unwilling to sit around waiting for the pandemic pass, they adapted as best they could to at least get the name out in the community. Popped embraced a party-in-a-box concept so customers could enjoy their treats at home.

Popped ships boxes of flavored popcorn, reusable serving scoops and party bags to customers. A standard 96-ounce box costs $55.

It has been slow to take off, but it is helping the founders put the Popped name in front of Tri-City event planners.

“When events come back, it will be on people’s minds,” she said.

So, just what is a popcorn bar? Like a yogurt – or salad – bar, visitors start with a bowl or bag of Killian Korn’s famous glazed popcorn.

 The popcorn glaze comes in multiple colors that can be used to match special events. Guests add toppings, from nuts to chocolate to fruits and even savories, such as cheese and jalapeños.

Pearce, 60, and Killian, 56, are newbie entrepreneurs.

Pearce divorced after 30 years and found herself needing to work for health insurance. She married an Australian she met at a dance in Richland and while the couple are comfortable, she said she wants to strengthen their finances.

She began “noodling around,” contemplating businesses that would not take too much time away from her new husband. She found inspiration in her own wedding, where she had served Killian Korn at the reception.

She contacted Lisa, who also is related to the Killian Korn family, to discuss offering whimsical popcorn buffets at weddings.

Her cousin had been thinking along similar lines but didn’t want to limit the market to weddings. She envisioned popcorn bars at barbecues, birthdays, showers, graduation parties and other festive events.

They decided to collaborate, starting on a shoestring budget with no advertising and little understanding of how to build an online presence.  Their mostly grown children provided tech support.

The website included a phone number for placing orders. Pearce liked the human contact, but her daughter pooh-poohed that, reminding her that millennials want to push an order button with a minimum of fuss.

“It’s really just little granny footsteps. Two older ladies who are creative but not tech savvy,” Pearce said.

The Covid-19 pandemic put the official launch on hold, but Pearce said it is an interesting moment to be an entrepreneur.

The U.S. Census Bureau is tracing an increase in business formation, the so-called “Covid Companies.” Pearce is not surprised.

“People are creating businesses,” she said. “The entrepreneurial bug is everywhere.”

She, however, is eager to put the pandemic in the rearview mirror so that people can get together to celebrate milestones and family.

“I know we have a remarkable product. It’s going to be really great if we can get it off the ground,” she said.

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