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Poppa Maize Popcorn | Phoenix Local Roy Wilson | Interview


When I’m high, I’m definitely a grazer… and if I’m out and about after taking an edible, I can almost guarantee you that finding food is going to be at the forefront of my brain. When I was in Phoenix in January, high as heck and wandering through the Downtown Phoenix Farmers Market, I had my eye on the prize, and finding a stall of 2 for $5 bags of popcorn (of a never-ending variety of flavors, nonetheless) was a godsend. We started chatting with Roy Wilson, the owner of Poppa Maize popcorn, and I was intrigued with his story… and even more impressed with the treats he creates. If you’re in the Phoenix area, I would absolutely recommend checking him out for the best popcorn I’ve ever tasted in my life… and I thought you might like to learn a little bit more about his business, too.


Roy Wilson, otherwise known as @PoppaMaize:

Poppa Maize

I discovered your absolutely incredible popcorn at the Downtown Phoenix Farmers Market when I was visiting the city. My friend Dorian and I were stoned out of our minds on edibles, and your enticing variety of popcorn was JUST what was needed, and for 2 for $5, was also a total deal! First, can you introduce us to yourself and how you got started making popcorn?

First of all, I’m Roy Wilson, and have been living in Phoenix since 1980, when my family moved here from Chicago. I finished high school and got a job in the restaurant business, where I learned how to cook, bake, and manage a business. I then worked in a supermarket, where I learned retailing and stocking, and customer service… all jobs that still help me today with my business. Poppa Maize started as a joking idea over a Valentine’s dinner back in February of 2007 with my girlfriend at the time, who is still my partner in the business. That night, she asked me what I was going to do with my life. At the time I was just working for Xerox, eating fast food, microwave popcorn and partying, and the question reminded me of what a high school counselor would ask a student that’s not living up to their full potential. So, like that student, I gave a smart ass answer, which was “I don’t know… maybe open up a popcorn shop, and sell popcorn for the rest of my life,” as I drank some more wine and laughed.


At the time, I would eat a box of microwave popcorn every day easily, but got tired of it after a while and wanted some caramel corn for a change. I couldn’t find a shop like they have in Chicago or back East, so I decided instead to make my own caramel popcorn. I made it, ate it, and gave it out to friends and family and they liked it, too. Around that time my partner, who worked at Honeywell, needed something to sell at an employee fundraiser, and she asked “well, what about the popcorn?” We made about 400 bags, which sold out pretty quickly and got great feedback on it… and it was at that moment that we looked at each other, wide eyed, and said “we might have something here!” We put together a business plan, pooled our money together, and found a little shop on 19th ave and Greenway to rent, and soon we were off and running. We were suddenly “we don’t know what we’re doing, but we don’t want to work for anyone else anymore” entrepreneurs.

Poppa Maize

One of my favorite things about your popcorn stand was all of the original and innovative flavors, like Cake Batter, Cookies ‘N Cream, Toasted Coconut, Caramel Apple, Pineapple Jalapeno, and Spirulina… definitely not flavors I’ve witnessed in popcorn before! What is your personal favorite, the crowd favorite, and how did you get started making such unique tastes?

The shop was fun, and we met a lot of cool people over a bag of popcorn. We were closed on Sundays, and that’s when I would go into the shop and try out new flavors. Some were my kids’ ideas, or customers’ suggestions… they came from everywhere, and still do. After a few tears and many experiments, we entered a contest to win free rent for a year on Mill Ave, just to get a little exposure. We put together a presentation for the city’s officials with 30 other businesses competing for the spot. A few weeks later, we got a call from the city of Tempe to say that we finished in 2nd place, but they really liked our product. The next day they called back and said they liked us so much, that they were going to have two first place winners, which was such a surprise! We were happy to win, but not ready financially to open another shop, so we closed the first shop and moved our operation to Tempe, which we stayed in for several years. The most popular flavors are caramel, cheese, and kettle… “safe” flavors that people are familiar with. It’s kind of a challenge to get people to try a pineapple jalapeno or cake batter popcorn, but once you try it, it might become your new flavor! I personally like the garlic parmesan and the savory toasted coconut. A main reason for the 2 for $5 price point is that you won’t go broke buying a flavor you don’t really like that much!

Poppa Maize

Have you considered getting into the edibles business? There’s almost nothing more satisfying than a huge bag of savory popcorn if you’re a little bit high…

My goal is to get this product in any and all smoke and head shops in Phoenix, and I spent the past year working in the Grand Canyon, knowing that I was coming back to do popcorn and market it to those shops. I’m in the process of developing edibles, and make popcorn candy called popcorn delights, which is a 2-ounce cup filled with chocolate, infused caramel, pecans, pieces cake batter, toffee pieces, and popcorn… they’re REALLY good. We’re still in the process of testing out dosing, and you would have been good for some feedback!


How can people find you to buy your delicious treats and support you?

If you’d like to buy some popcorn, we are at the downtown Phoenix market 720 N. Central on Saturdays from 8am to 1pm, you can follow us on Facebook at Poppa Maize or on Instagram @poppamaize. We always post on FB and IG when and where we do a pop up market, and you can also pre-order for Saturday’s market for pick up, or to order large and varied quantities for events.


Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I would like to thank you and everyone else for supporting me on this venture. I am very humbled with the love and support that I have received over the years, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart! One time, when I was a little down, a good friend once told me “Roy… the world needs your popcorn.” I laughed, but he didn’t, and got mad at me for laughing… he said, “think of all the people in life that you have affected with a bag of popcorn, because who doesn’t smile while eating popcorn!” After all this time, I think he’s right.

 

Check out more awesome local businesses.

 


Heidi Keyes

Heidi Keyes is the Founder of Puff, Pass & Paint, and Co-Founder & President of Cannabis Tours. Heidi writes about her experiences, sharing her advice, travel tips, and wisdom in Puff, Pass Ponder.

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