When Danya Hall and husband Jerome Hall, co-owners of a Chicago-based real estate company, relocated to Texas, they had no idea that five years later they would be owners of a successful popcorn business with products on the shelves of a major grocery store chain.
In 2007, the couple was commuting back and forth from Chicago to Houston in preparation for their move to Houston when the idea for the business was sparked.
On one of those trips Danya Hall began noticing that many of the travelers were carrying bags of popcorn from Chicago’s famous Garrett Popcorn Shops and Jays O-Ke-Doke popcorn.
“I didn’t understand why half of the passengers had popcorn, and looked over at my husband and said, ‘Why are they carrying this popcorn back like they don’t have popcorn in Houston.’
‘They don’t, not the way they make it in Chicago,’ responded Hall’s husband.
Hall took to the Internet and soon discovered that the technique used to prepare popcorn in Chicago wasn’t being used in Houston.
The couple sought to remedy that and convened in their kitchen to duplicate the unique cheese and caramel blend popcorn they had grown up on in Chicago.
With their homework done, they put their gourmet popcorn creation to the test with several members of their family.
“After getting the recipe to what we thought was worthy of labeling as Chicago-style, they were all for it,” says Hall of the response of family members.
In 2008, Just Poppin’ was born and a manufacturing location was secured in Stafford, Texas to prepare and package the popcorn for delivery to commercial and retail accounts.
The gourmet popcorn is available in eight flavors.
“Our flavors are tied to the Chicago tradition. We keep our selections to a minimum. We don’t use powdered cheese, we use real cheese that is melted down and coated on our product. We also don’t use added flavors and everything we use is from scratch,” says Hall.
Each batch of popcorn is air popped, kettle cooked and made fresh daily.
The Chicago Mix, Pecan Caramel and Chocolate Drizzle have quickly become customer favorites and have been described by some customers as ‘addicting,’ shares Hall.
“It is one of America’s top snacks, but our popcorn is healthier than most popcorn because it is gluten free and made without trans fats,” adds Hall.
With numerous repeat customers ordering, including Memorial Hermann Hospital, CenterPoint Energy, Cameron Management, Energy Transfer, and others, the Halls now have their eyes set on growing the retail side of the market for their product.
They recently opened a retail store in downtown Houston to accommodate walk-ins as well as the many corporate clients requesting their products as gift baskets for the holidays.
“We try to offer different avenues so if customers come here it is a one stop shop whether for a fundraiser, a corporate event or any kind of gift giving needs or a retail store looking to resell our popcorn,” says Hall.
The greatest challenge the couple has faced is growing the family-owned and operated company’s brand in the market.
“Being a manufacturer and presenting a product that you feel is good and introducing it to a market that is not familiar with it, that has been our biggest challenge at this point.
“It was also difficult as a small vendor to sell them in a wholesale market on allowing you to have their space and not being charged for it,” says Hall.
But with those initial hurdles cleared, the couple now has its products on the shelves of Food Town, Food-A-Rama and H-E-B as well as numerous grassroots stores.
The Chicago-style gourmet popcorn soon will be available in all 78 Houston-based H-E-B grocery stores, according to the couple.
“It was definitely a goal of ours to expand distribution and when we met with H-E-B executives, they let us know that we had exceeded their expectations and wanted to expand,” says Hall.
The business is run by the Halls with the help of several family members, including Danya Hall’s mother, aunt and nephew.
“My oldest daughter dabbles in and out when not in school and I have a son in the Navy and four other children in high school and middle school who help out now and then and are pretty excited about it,” says Danya Hall.
Many of her children’s classmates and teachers are familiar with the product.
“One of his teacher’s brought in a snack for the kids and it happened to be our product – and he said ‘my mom and them own that’, and her response was ‘oh, yeah right kid,'” says Hall.
The 43-year-old mother of five and her husband have come a long way in a short time.
“When I hear other people elaborate on our success it feels like we still have a long way to go. It has been a marathon, so i don’t think it has been a short timeframe,” says Hall.
In five years, the couple would like to have multiple retail locations and to be in all 280 Texas-based HEB stores and also in grassroots stores throughout Houston. They also are working to make their products available in local stadiums, including Toyota Center, Reliant Stadium, Minute Maid, Dynamo and Sugar Land Skeeters.
Just Poppin’ also offers the company’s Pleasy Cheesy, Crazy Mix, Crazy Caramel and White Caramel flavors to schools, sports teams or organizations for fundraisers. For more information, call 281-969-8651 or visit www.justpoppinpopcorn.com.
Just Poppin Locations
13409 Murphy Road, Ste.
Stafford Texas 77477
802 Milam (on Rusk side)
Monday through Friday
10 a.m. to 6 p.m.