Not your average movie snack

Local vendor brings gourmet-style popcorn to Tampa

By Nicole Cate, LIFESTYLE EDITOR
On January 29, 2017

Chef Inspired Popcorn Company offers 50 unique flavors of popcorn, cycling between 25-35 flavors at a time. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

When a person goes to a movie theater and gets a bag of popcorn, it’s usually just seasoned with salt or butter. 

Sometimes, one can find a cheddar, caramel or even jalapeno flavor too. 

But students who would like to try more unique popcorn tastes, such as birthday cake, garlic sriracha and buffalo bleu cheese, can visit Chef Inspired Popcorn Company at 927 S Howard Ave.

Lizette Rivera, the owner of Chef Inspired, spent 20 years in corporate America before she was inspired to start her own gourmet dessert business.

“I got sick about five years ago after I got back from a trip in Costa Rica, and it took them a while to diagnose me,” Rivera said. “I cannot have gluten.”

This was when she started her search for a snack that was gluten-free. There was chocolate, but there was no way for her to snack on chocolate frequently and not develop another health problem.

Rivera and her daughter are self-professed movie buffs, and by extension, popcorn lovers. They started making their own flavors, like garlic Parmesan, at home and they would bring it to her daughter’s softball games. After receiving positive feedback from the other parents, she realized that it would make a pretty good business idea.

“It kind of just took a life of its own after that, but really it was my search for something gluten-free and a snack, because who really doesn’t love popcorn?” Rivera said.

The shop is a peanut-free and gluten-free environment, as she wants to make the business somewhere anyone can go to, regardless of dietary restrictions. They are currently working on vegan options as well.

“I know that feeling of trying to go and eat and you have to ask for that gluten-free menu and people look at you weird like, ‘Really?’” Rivera said.

The shop first opened on Oct. 2, 2015 on Hanley Road in Town ‘N Country, and the first flavor they made was salted caramel. Now, the new 1,100 square foot space boasts more flavors than they can keep on the shelves at once.

“We have over 50 different flavors. We keep about 25-30 in the shop,” Rivera said. “We rotate them. We keep the standard eight to 10 that are always there.”

She said that the reception has been great ever since the store opened late last year. The neighborhood has been very welcoming, as the shop already has regulars, such as families who live in the area and children going home after school. 

Not to mention, they get a lot of foot traffic from passersby who smell the product.

“We’re popping all the time. Our business is growing. Production is constantly going,” Rivera said. “I’m right next to Green Lemon and Daily Eats, so we get a lot of the restaurant people who go eat and then come to our shop for dessert because they just smell popcorn outside.”

She suggests students try the windy city, a combination of cheddar and caramel, as her teenage daughter loves to eat it while studying and reading. Her personal favorite flavor is the truffle Parmesan.

“It’s a black truffle oil with Parmesan cheese. We use a local vendor in the area, Joe and Son’s Olive Oils,” Rivera said. “And that’s a lot of what I like doing. I like trying to use spices and flavors from local people, and that’s a lot of fun because we get to shed light on other local businesses and use them with our popcorn.”

She also uses her business to give back. She likes to help with the fundraising efforts for causes such as breast cancer awareness and animal rights, but the former holds a special place in her heart.

“I get involved in a lot of the cancer awareness because my mom is a lung cancer survivor, and she is the one person that encouraged me to give it everything I had and become an entrepreneur,” Rivera said. “It was a big risk as a single mom.”

She suggests to students with their own causes in mind to visit the fundraising section on her website because she doesn’t know of all the different movements, but she knows there are probably more she would be interested in.

The sizes are snack ($3), small ($7), medium ($12) and large ($14). People can also get the popcorn in tins or a chef pack, which is a sampler box of eight 1-cup bags. Also, specialty popcorn flavors, such as chocolate covered salted caramel, cost a few dollars more.

Students should also note that she posts weekly specials on the Chef Inspired Popcorn Company website, and that the company is currently in the process of developing a happy hour for popcorn.

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