Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Kalamazoo series.
A truffle is a small thing. But its earthy flavor – in the form of truffle popcorn – has made a huge impression on Kari Stolpestad.
“I was home with my kids,” says Stolpestad, a former baker who grew up in Ontario, Canada. “I had been at home since my daughter was born in 2006. And when we were living in California, I went to this restaurant and tried truffle popcorn and it was the best thing I ever had … ever.”
She says, “I kept going back to the restaurant to buy their popcorn and then they ended up teaching me how to make it.” With a laugh, she says, “I don’t know if I went back too much or if they ended up feeling sorry for me, but they were fantastic. They taught me how to make it and I just ended up making it at home.”
Kari Stolpestad was a stay-at-home mother when she became enamored with truffle popcorn year ago. It is now one of the top sellers of her growing business Good Batch Popcorn.
Fast forward to 2021, and after a few job relocations with her husband, Stolpestad decided to turn her love of truffle popcorn into a business, Good Batch Popcorn. The company makes specialty popcorn, with Stolpestad operating from her home in Kalamazoo, and selling 4-oz. bags of Dill Pickle Popcorn, Jalapeno Cheddar Popcorn, Butter and Pink Himalayan Salt Popcorn, and Caramel Popcorn, along with Truffle Popcorn, of course, at local farmers markets.
“I made it at home,” she says of Truffle Popcorn. “I made it for my kids, my friends, myself,” she says. “We all loved the truffle popcorn.”
She says she decided to make it a business after spending time at the Texas Corners Farmers Market as a visitor, then talking with the market manager who encouraged her to try to sell her popcorn. So in February of 2021, at age 49, she did.
“I literally just bought bags and printed labels and got a table and went out and started selling popcorn,” she says. But she says she knew very little about how to set her prices and knew nothing about running a business. That lack of knowledge was addressed, however, during Can-Do Camp
, a 16-week incubator program that helps startup businesses get going in Greater Kalamazoo.
New entrepreneurs met with business people and mentors recently as the spring session of the 16-week Can-Do Camp graduated eight businesses
Stolpestad participated in the September-December 2021 session of the startup program. Following the camp, she began renting time and space in the commercial kitchen of program operator Can-Do Kalamazoo
“I’m so glad I found Can-Do,” Stolpestad says. “Can-Do Camp was a wealth of information and it helped turn my vague idea of selling popcorn into a reality. There were so many details, labels, food safety, networking, business planning, (and other things) that I knew nothing about.”
With help from family members and connections made by members of the business community, Stolpestad has been able to regularly sell her popcorn at farmers' markets in Texas Corners and Kalamazoo. Sales have grown from about 30 four-ounce bags per week in 2021 to about 140 bags per week recently. But that is poised to grow as she recently started sales at the New Buffalo Farmers Market. Stolpestad is hoping that popcorn will be a big seller in the lakeside community.
Kari Stolepstad is excited to open her specialty popcorn business.
“Good Batch Popcorn has grown,” she says. “I’ve added more farmers markets and started selling online for pickup, delivery, and shipping.”
The growth includes her plans to open her first brick-and-mortar location in July at 635 N. 9th St. in Oshtemo Township. She will share space with Pizza Katerina. That pizzeria, which is operated by Melodie Holman, is expected to relocate from its current spot there in the middle of the Sunset Plaza shopping center (adjacent to the 9th
Street Walmart store) into a larger space at its southern end. It will share an expanded space there with Good Batch Popcorn.
“We are thrilled for Good Batch Popcorn’s growth over the last two years,” says Lucy Dilley, founder, and executive director of Can-Do Kalamazoo.
Good Batch Popcorn will share space at 635 N. 9th St. in Oshtemo Township with Pizza Karina. The location is shown on the left in the photo. The pizzeria is expected to move two doors down from its current location in the plaza
Can-Do Kalamazoo began in 2008 as the Can-Do Kitchen, an incubator program to help food-based businesses. It has sought to help entrepreneurs interested in producing foods to be packaged and sold, those interested in catering, and those operating food trucks and carts. Along with providing basic business training, it removes one of the most significant barriers to food business ownership — offering them space in a commercial kitchen. Can-Do Kalamazoo’s licensed commercial kitchen helps new businesses avoid the cost of establishing their own kitchen.
Last year, the nonprofit company changed its name to Can-Do Kalamazoo as it expanded its efforts to help businesses of all types “so anyone of any business model can come to us and we’re going to get them on that road and make those connections for them,” Dilley says
Along with its Can-Do Camp, its programs include QuickStarter Incubation, Business Builder Scholarship, Group Tour & Info Sessions, Can-Do Loans, and Can-Do Connect.
Of Good Batch Popcorn, Dilley says, “I think that she’s hit on something with the specialty flavors. And I think that she’s really found that for people who love popcorn and love the health of it, … adding those flavors adds a pizzazz that is really working well for her business. I’ve really been impressed watching her grow this over the last couple of years.”
Can-Do will have the capacity to help more businesses after it relocates this summer from its 7-year-old location at 3501 Lake St., where it has a 1,800-square-foot commercial kitchen, to 519 S. Park St., where it will have a 4,100-square-foot kitchen. Can-Do Kalamazoo is renovating about 11,000 square feet of space inside a Park Street building owned by KPEP, the county’s program for adult offenders coming back into the community.
An assortment of foods was on display ask Can-Di Kalamazoo wrapped up the spring session of its Can-Do Camp.
Since its start in 2019, the Can-Do Camp has worked with more than two dozen businesses. In the Spring 2023 Can-Do Camp, which recently ended, Jarrett Blackmon, communications director for Can-Do Kalamazoo, says, “We had a fantastic group of eight participants including two from different industries. One specializes in online fundraising, while the other is involved in the packaged tea industry. Their diverse backgrounds brought fresh perspectives and enriched our camp experience.”
He says another participant runs a sustainable farming business that is focused on eco-friendly practices.
Can-Do Camp is funded through a combination of grants, donations from foundations and individuals, and participant fees, Dilley says. While there are scholarships available for qualified participants, the camp costs about $450 per food-based participant. It costs about $300 for participants in non-food industries and the length is shorter, approximately 12 weeks.
She and Blackmon say another growing food business that is doing well after graduating from the program last year, is Dirty Vegan, a seller of plant-based, ready-to-eat, comfort foods. The business was started by Derick Waters in 2022 to try to bring delicious vegan cuisine to the area. He and his partner Nina Martinez create vegan foods that they sell primarily at food vending events as well as at the Kalamazoo Farmers Market.
Derick Waters’ business The Dirty Vegan, has been turning heads and expanding tastes with the vegan foods he makes and sells, most often at the Kalamazoo Farmers Market.
Waters has said the name “Dirty Vegan,” is intended to help change the perception that vegan food is boring. It includes his plant-based recipes that mimic animal-based foods. For instance, he makes “not-chicken” wraps and “not-chicken sandwiches.” In those, he uses marinated oyster mushrooms. He deep-fries them in vegetable oil and serves them with a special sauce on a bun or in a wrap.
He had been working as a forklift operator at a warehouse when he started selling vegan foods at the Kalamazoo Farmers Market. He has said participating in the Can-Do Camp was the thing that empowered him to go into business.
“Their 16-week program is the reason I opened my business,” he says
Dilley says, “His food is so good. I’m not vegan but his food is just absolutely delicious. So I just want to see him get to the point where he can have that stable spot or whatever he’s hoping to have so people can find him all the time and he can grow his business that way.”
Dilley says, “For us, our whole goal is that people learn how to run their business in the supportive environment that we create. And the whole goal is that they then feel ready and their business is poised to make that next step and get bigger and go out and hire people … and just make a greater economic impact for her and the community. So she’s just a great example of what we’re trying to do over here.”
Stolpestad, who crossed into Michigan frequently when she attended the University of Windsor, says she never knew about Kalamazoo until her husband Lars transferred here to continue his career in warehousing and logistics for a major food company.
His job has taken her family from Toronto to Pennsylvania, to California, then back to Toronto, and now to Michigan. But she says she and her family now love Kalamazoo. The couple has lived here for nine years and has two children, a 16-year-old daughter, Annika, and a 14-year-old son, Bjorn. Annika helps sell popcorn for Good Patch at the farmers' markets. Stolpestad’s husband helps her transport her equipment and supplies.
She is set to bring on her first (non-family) employee, a Western Michigan University student, to support sales and grow her online presence.
Speaking specifically of truffle popcorn, Stolpestad says she would like to see her business become THE place that people go to find it.
“I love doing the farmer's markets because of the attraction of the people,’ she says. “But I really would love to see it grow online. I would love for it to be a ‘go-to’ when people want really good gourmet popcorn.”
She says she would also love to see it sold in retail stores.” It’s just a matter of understanding that my popcorn has a shelf-life that is pretty short,” she says.
She uses all-natural ingredients and although truffles are hard to find, not easy to grow, and very expensive, she looks for local sources for as many of the other ingredients she needs. Truffle salt and truffle oil are actually used to flavor her truffle popcorn.
Asked about being a new business operator, she says, there's so much to know at a time when you don't even know what all the questions should be. But she says, “If you’re in Kalamazoo and you want to start a food business, I would 100 percent say go and do the class at Can-Do Kalamazoo. It's invaluable. You learn so much. Also if you're starting a food business and you want a place to make it, do it at Can-Do because they have so many resources.”
The next Can-Do Camp cohort is set to begin in September 2023. Information to pre-register for the camp is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, see Good Batch Popcorn
or Can-Do Kalamazoo