Courtesy of De J. Lozada
De J. Lozada thinks your popcorn could use a little soul.
A single mom to two sons, a caretaker to her niece and elderly father, and unable to work due to a since-cured undiagnosed illness, Lozada had just $53 left in her bank account when she sold her first batch of gourmet popcorn in 2016.
“I chose popcorn because it was my favorite snack and I already knew how to flavor it in new and different ways,” says Lozada, who lives in Austin, Texas. “Before my illness, I always gave popcorn as love offerings to my friends and family. I knew people really liked it, and I figured I could use it to make some quick money when I needed it.”
What began with a parking lot sale has since grown into Soul Popped Gourmet Popcorn, a healthy snack-food company with an online retail shop and a brick-and-mortar space in Austin’s Barton Creek Square Mall (the storefront is currently closed due to COVID-19).
“I needed something that would stand out from what everyone else was already offering that would encourage people to spend their dollars with me,” says Lozada of her decision to focus on soul-food-inspired flavors. “As a Black woman from the south, soul food has always been something that’s authentic to me. I didn’t really see anyone else in the food space transforming soul food into delectable, un-chemicalized, healthier-for-you snacks, so I decided that’s the lane I’d occupy with my popcorn.”
Courtesy of Soul Popped
Soul Popped currently offers seven flavors of gourmet popcorn made with natural ingredients—none of that processed stuff you can’t pronounce—and she cares a lot about taste. “I like to say Soul Popped was created in a kitchen by a mom, not in a lab by a chemist,” says Lozada. “And we’re 100% vegetarian or vegan. That’s turned out to be a highly defensible position—even all these years later!”
The flavors are rock-solid too: There’s Austin Smoke BBQ (vegan), Banana Pudding, Buttered Corn-off-the-Cobb, Chicken N Waffles, Big Momma’s Fried Chicken (vegan), Heavenly Macaroni N Cheese, and The Real Dill Sour Pickle (vegan). (BUY IT: $8.50 for a 5-ounce bag; soulpopped.com)
For the most part, the flavors are relatively subtle—satisfying hints of their soul food inspiration, rather than overwhelming knock-out punches. My personal favorite (and I’ve tried them all, thanks to Lozada’s generosity) is The Real Dill Sour Pickle. It’s got just the right notes of tangy brightness, and the only problem is that it leaves me craving a diner-style cheeseburger with a Coke. (Because what goes better with a pickle spear than that?!)
Despite these weird, wild times, Lozada is staying busy, with plans to expand product offerings this fall, including a popcorn profile that includes alcohol-inspired flavors.
The popcorn pro is also staying positive, despite COVID-19 temporarily closing her storefront and having limited staff.
“The universe has already equipped each of us with everything we need to survive,” says Lozada. “Everyone has some kind of talent they can tap into to make a way through life—in good and in tumultuous times like these. I believe that the trick is sitting still long enough to listen to what you’re being asked to do.”
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