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Gourmet popcorn shop in Killeen is 'fresh, fun and different'

Joyce Tenner, 38, had no idea she would become the popcorn lady.She  only knew she wanted her own business. So, in true entrepreneurial  spirit, she opened Maïs Soufflé Popcorn Bistro in mid-January, because  she said Killeen didn’t have a gourmet popcorn shop.“I love to  cook, but running a restaurant is difficult, yet a popcorn shop is  ideal,” Tenner said. “Everyone loves popcorn. It’s a family thing.” 

Located  at 1310 West Stan Schlueter Loop in the corner of a mini-mall, the smell of  fresh popcorn, sugar and spices overwhelm the quaint 1,000-square-foot  shop.A popcorn bar on one side lets customers sample the many  flavors. On a daily basis, the shop features 16 flavors, out of 30  total, and rotates them about every week. The two most popular ones are  banana pudding, which sells out often, and chili cheese. Other flavors  include coconut almond delight, creamy dill, s’mores, and sweet and  salty, plus Chicago style, white cheddar and Parmesan garlic, to name a  few.Tenner made a special flavor, strawberry cheesecake, just for  Valentine’s Day that proved so popular, customers begged her to keep it  as a regular flavor.She will offer seasonal flavors throughout  the year, such as watermelon in the summer and eggnog at Christmas. Soon  the shop will sell popcorn balls and popcorn bars.When she is  not at the shop, Tenner, a chief warrant officer 3 in the Army, is at  her job in information technology at III Corps at Fort Hood. Her  daughter Nikia Hill, 18, and Jeanne Stoy, Tenner’s mother-in-law, take  over to manage the shop.“I love working with my mom, and learning about owning a business is awesome,” Hill said.A  native of Lettsworth, La., Tenner wanted a unique name for her shop,  but the name Popcorn Bistro was already in use. So, she altered it.“This name is a tribute to my Louisana roots, because maïs soufflé is French for popcorn,” she said.Her  business model is simple: use only fresh, high-quality ingredients to  make the tastiest popcorn. Making the different flavors is not a  difficult process, she said. After popping the corn, each batch is put  in a large steel tub, or caramelizer, that cooks the sugar and shortening  and coats the popcorn with a specific flavoring and coloring.

Then it is spread out on a table where it is tossed by hand, making  certain each kernel is coated, then cooled and bagged. Three sizes are  available — small, medium and large — and prices vary depending upon the  flavor. Gift baskets line the shelves and can be made for any occasion.Before  opening the shop, Tenner got a taste of how much the public loves  gourmet popcorn by selling bags of it at local church bazaars. She spent  six months looking for a store, and researching the business side of  ownership, including taking free online classes offered by the Small  Business Administration.“Those classes really helped me learn a  lot about business management and finances,” she said. Previously, the  store was a donut shop, so Tenner repainted it and bought her own  equipment, taking over the space in November. The startup costs totaled  about $20,000. Each week, she makes a trip to Austin to buy most  of her supplies. She uses what is known as mushroom popcorn, since it is  large and round, and holds coatings better than the smaller butterfly  popcorn, the type sold in movie theaters. About 25 gallons of popcorn  are made fresh daily. And some customers return daily to buy a bag or  two.“People are addicted to it,” Hill said, laughing. “They have their favorite flavor but they love to try new ones.”Tenner  plans to retire from the Army later in 2017 after 20 years, and wants  to open another store in the area. “Killeen was at a point where it  needed something fresh, fun and different,” she said. “I’m filling that  gap with popcorn.”