When Grant Jones spent six months experimenting with different gourmet popcorn flavors in his father-in-law’s garage, he didn’t think the product would be selling in five countries just six years later.
His interest in running a popcorn business started as an idea from Charles Brown, Grant’s father-in-law. “I saw the idea for a flavored popcorn store during a visit to Chicago,” Charles said. “I always liked popcorn as a kid, and the idea just stuck with me.”
He liked that popcorn was low-cost and high-yield to produce, plus it could sustain during difficult economic times. Charles also recognized an entrepreneurial spirit in his son-in-law, who is “clearly smart and thoughtful,” and brought him in on the business idea.
Grant took the lead operating the company with Charles acting as the “bumpers in the bowling alley” to provide guidance as needed. After perfecting some of the more than 21 current flavors KuKuRuZa offers, Grant – with help from his wife Ashley – opened their first store in Bellevue Square under the name of Popcorn Pavilion, before purchasing KuKuRuZa Gourmet Popcorn near Pike Place Market in 2010, and later adding a store in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. Grant found that the KuKuRuZa brand resonated better with local consumers.
When trying to launch Popcorn Pavilion in 2009, Grant needed capital but could not get financing from a local bank. So they followed up on a referral to Community Capital Development (CCD) where they met Antoinette Marasigan, who they found to be supportive of their business vision.
“When we met Antoinette at CCD, we finally had bankers working for us and not against us,” Grant said.
To keep up with the demand, Grant opened a 5,400 square foot distribution center in Seattle in 2012. Earlier this year, he used a second SBA guaranteed loan to refinance, this time through Regal Financial Bank where they followed Antoinette, who the two consider to be part of their team.
“We’ve continued to focus on a high-end, high-quality product,” Grant said. “If we stay aligned with what our customers want, the growth will come.”
Growth has come indeed. Since launching their business in 2009, at the tail end of the recession, KuKuRuZa has grown from one to 12 locations in less than three years. Their company employs more than 30 people and will balloon up to nearly 70 employees during the holiday season. “It’s a privilege to pick the people you work with,” Grant said.
It wasn’t too long before Grant started getting phone calls from people overseas who wanted to open KuKuRuZa franchises in their countries, something he and his father-in-law were surprised by. Not sure where to begin for doing business overseas, Grant connected with Rich Shockley and Joseph Vogel at the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which has two Export Readiness Centers in the state.
Thanks to their assistance, Grant and his father-in-law were able to open franchise locations in Japan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and South Korea.
Since opening 10 locations overseas, Grant and Charles are turning their focus back to opening more locations in the U.S., possibly using the franchise model.
“It’s incredibly gratifying to see Grant develop such a successful business – to be successful in the community and to create jobs,” Charles said. “By expanding into franchises, KuKuRuZa can extend that opportunity to others to empower and enable people to create their own destinies.”
For more information about KuKuRuZa Gourmet Popcorn, visit www.kukuruza.com.
For more information about the SBA Loan Guarantee Program, visit www.sba.gov/LoanPrograms.
And for more information about the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC) network, visit www.wsbdc.org.