Long Beach is becoming the new home to a gourmet popcorn experience with the opening of Popcorn World on Oct. 1 in Bixby Knolls.
The store, initially slated to open in June, began in Calhoun, Georgia, in 2008 with 25 to 30 different flavors. The business now boasts nearly 500 different recipes, from savory flavors such as dill pickle, hot wings, or hot dogs and ketchup, to sweeter varieties like cheesecake coated in graham cracker crumbs and banana pudding dusted with wafers. The Long Beach location is expected to have 100 to 120 flavors at a time.
“A lot of our customers really enjoy the experience of being able to come up with their own mixes,” said Popcorn World President LeBarron Burton. “A lot of people don’t recognize that sweet, savory kind of works just about any way.”
Combining sweet and savory flavors is a cornerstone of Popcorn World, which prides itself on offering Chicago-style popcorn, where the mix of caramel and cheese is particularly popular.
For the licensees of the Long Beach location Vernon and Jasmine Chatman, they “wanted to bring a piece of Chicago to the west coast,” Burton said.
Burton first became involved in the company in 2013, at the time named “Popcorn Haven,” after the founders of the company, childhood friends of Burton, sought him out for support with the brand’s growth.
After opening up its first location, Burton discovered issues within the company, particularly with licensing under different names, which resulted in diluting the brand, he said.
Intended to feel like the “Disney World of popcorn,” the business underwent a rebranding over the next couple of years, officially renaming itself Popcorn World to represent its aspirations for a higher reach, said Burton.
“The older brand was a little more mom and pop-ish. We wanted the brand to represent something bigger,” said Burton. “There’s a lot of things to come . . . branding-wise.”
After opening up a couple of Las Vegas locations and a few throughout Georgia, the founders wanted to “cut their losses,” said Burton, turning the company entirely over to him.
Burton decided to close the majority of the locations, focusing his attention on a new location in Gary, Indiana, which he opened in 2018.
While the beginning of the pandemic brought immense struggle to many businesses, Popcorn World instead experienced “its first boom,” said Burton, thanks to a set of videos going viral, one of which includes comedian Tahir Moore sampling the popcorn and the second features a set of comedians, All Def discussing the product on their show, SquADD Cast.
Following the videos, Popcorn World sold about $60,000 worth of popcorn in just one day, Burton said.
The Long Beach location is a result of the viral videos in addition to the success of the Indiana location, said Burton, who began getting licensee requests at the time, including from Long Beach licensees Vernon and Jasmine Chatman, who first contacted Burton about opening a new location in 2019.
The licensees, who were initially located in Chicago, selected Long Beach as the shop’s location, citing the diversity of culture as well as the tourist feel, Burton said.
There is also a gap in the market for popcorn on the West Coast; while a positive for attracting customers, this has caused some challenges with finding suppliers, Burton said.
On top of supply shortages, there aren’t many popcorn suppliers in California, making it difficult to source products from the specific cheese used to the popcorn itself, Burton said.
The business, while initially slated to open in Bixby Knolls in June, experienced delays due to matters of gaining necessary licenses and approvals, said Burton.
“This is an exciting moment for me as the owner of the brand because I think this will officially put us on the national trajectory,” Burton said. “I’m looking to have a location in all the major markets, so California is something that I was really, really hoping that I would get a location under our belt, seeing that we have a lot of popularity in California due to the online presence that we’ve had.”
Popcorn World will be located at 3916 Atlantic Ave. Orders can also be placed online.