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.”