When KuKuRuZa opened in 2008, our customers were worried that we would not last long. Yes, we had delicious popcorn, but the economic climate had just taken a turn for the worse, and the general feeling was that selling popcorn was not enough to pay the rent in a down economy.
Downtown Seattle store front sign
The successful popcorn shops that have been around for longer than we have survive through tradition, proudly boasting that their flavors haven’t changed in decades. We opened in a time of economic difficulty with ideas that broke the mold of that tradition, with flavors like our Reserv line, including Truffle Fromage Porcini, Pecan Praline, and Bittersweet L’orange. Without a long standing tradition of our own, we had no such reservations about changing and constantly improving our popcorn recipes. The result, we think, is a robust menu of unique and delicious popcorn varieties that has been refined over the last 5 years. We have no intention of stopping the innovation and hopping on the tradition bandwagon. There are just too many culinary possibilities with popcorn that have been left unexplored, and we are very eager to continue exploring them!
Truffle Fromage Porcini. Photo Credit Manal_130.
In 2011, after a rocky first three years, KuKuRuZa changed ownership. Seeing the potential of the KuKuRuZa concept, 24 year old University of Washington graduate Grant Jones purchased the store from the original owners, Robert and Laura Hicks, and continued to build upon their initial concept. He was inspired by the way that they had pushed the culinary boundaries of the popcorn world and wanted to continue their legacy by creating fantastic popcorn to be shared by young and old alike. Since then, KuKuRuZa has expanded from the original flagship store near Pike Place Market to seven stores worldwide, including three in the Seattle area, three in Saudi Arabia, one in Tokyo, and another on the way in Egypt. It's been a busy two years!
The original team, 2009
Many of our original staff are still with us today. On the far left, James, is now our head cook at our central kitchen; Mary, 2nd from the left, is now the Regional Manager of our three Seattle area stores; and Jeremy, 2nd from the right, is now the Operations Manager of the company, handling all purchasing, internal logistics, and training for our international stores.
I sat down with Grant to find out how he feels about KuKuRuZa's 5th anniversary, and here’s what he had to say:
What did you expect when you purchased KuKuRuZa?
Grant: Well, in short, we expected an uphill battle that would pay off in the long run. The company was doing a lot of things very well and some other things not so well, so we went to work shoring up the weaknesses while accentuating the strengths of the brand and product line. We knew KuKuRuZa had amazing potential, it was just a matter of continuing to refine the concept and product line each and every day.
How is what you see now different from what you expected then?
Grant: Honestly, I don’t know what we expected long term. We saw potential and went for it. We hoped it would catch on and grow, which is most certainly happening now, but we didn't have any specific benchmarks to hit by our fifth anniversary. We certainly never expected to be in Saudi Arabia, Japan, or Egypt at this stage. The international expansion has been really exciting!
Where do you think KuKuRuZa will go in the next 5 years?
Grant: We’re going to keep doing what we do best - making great popcorn! We've been working hard to innovate new products every year, and we're making great strides in this department. It’s difficult as a small company to constantly develop new flavors – there are a lot of costs associated with that – but now that we have a few more resources, we have new ideas every day and we finally have time to sit down and test them out. We’re quite excited for next year. Without giving anything away, I've never been as excited about our Flavor of the Month lineup as I am for 2014.
What was your inspiration for KuKuRuZa?
Grant: Before I was involved, Robert and Laura did a lot of interesting experiments in popcorn cuisine, the Reserv line being a good example. The idea of really exploring the potential of popcorn as a new type of refined cuisine really fascinated me. That has inspired our direction moving forward, which I think will really come out when we begin releasing our 2014 Flavors of the Month.
Of course, we would have gone nowhere without the continued support of our customers. Their feedback has always been at the core of our development process. I don't think we have a single flavor that hasn't been tweaked based upon customer feedback. And some of our best flavors have come from customer suggestions. Our customers are a never-ending source of inspiration to us!
How are you celebrating your 5th Anniversary?
Grant: By eating amazing popcorn of course! We hope everyone will stop by. Even if you’re not in Seattle – stop by our website, Facebook page, or Twitter. We’re going to be offering 25% off of everything all day as a thank you to everyone who has supported us for the last 5 years. That’s in-store and online - we hope to see you there!
Come celebrate with us!
November 2nd, 2013
25% off EVERYTHING, in-store and online
Online, enter the code "5 YEAR" at checkout