I won’t lie. It can be easy to forget why I got into the artisanal popcorn business. The long hours, crippling disappointment from those you love, the sticky fingers. It’s hard work and on top of the intensive labor is the reality that people just don’t “get it.” But what I have to remember is that despite the backlash and despite the bitter cruelty of those who want to see me fail, I have a persevering love for popcorn that tastes slightly better and costs a shit ton more than regular popcorn.
When I first opened Kernel of Kourage, a lot of people wanted to know one thing: “Why are you leaving your job at Google?” Sure, Google was a ton of fun and the benefits were unbelievable. But at a certain point I’d seen all the robots. I’d been to every website. I didn’t need Google anymore. It was no longer exciting. I get that what I did wasn’t a vertical move or even a lateral move. In fact it was more the move of a brave kernel of popcorn exploding out into new territory, a territory outside the pot. It wasn’t that I was leaving Google, it’s that I was following something that made me come alive: seasonally flavored popcorn packaged in small decorative baggies being sold at the outrageous price of $12.99.
Can you believe that every day I go into work I get to ask myself, “What’s a flavor that would taste good?” And if I have those flavors in the shoppe’s kitchen, I get to try it out. The fact that this is my reality is unbelievable to me. I am the luckiest man on Earth, probably.
There are nights, after my novelty shoppe has closed, when I’m sitting next to the industrial popcorn cookers, alone. It’s dark and the floor is covered in sugar dust and kernels. Maybe my Rosemary Cinnamon didn’t sell out that day, or someone had the nerve to bring in a bag of Orville Redenbacher while perusing the floor-to-ceiling shelves of artisanal popcorns. But that feeling of great sadness and fear of my own entrepreneurial ineptitude is erased immediately when I see a small child or a tired mother rip open a baggie of Dill Pickle Parmesan Popcorn, taste it, and say, “Oh, I didn’t expect it to taste like this. Cool. Wait, it’s $12.99? Fine, OK.” It is those moments I live for. That is why I do what I do and that is why what I do is what I love. And it is also why my wife of 14 years had to eventually leave me because I had no business prowess and was financially ruining the life we had built together.
But you know what? If I didn’t run Kernel of Kourage I’d be living untrue to myself. And I don’t want that for myself, nor do I want it for my two beautiful boys, ages nine and twelve, who see me every other weekend. Imagine having a father you are ashamed of. Imagine them having to say to their friends, “My father does not love his job.” Instead, they get unlimited Buffalo Wing Popcorn every other weekend because that is the worst-selling specialty flavor in the store and there is always a surplus of it. They get to tell their friends, “My father, the artisanal popcorn maker, is happy.”