AUSTIN (KXAN) — “There’s power in not having anything to lose,” said De Juana Lozada, founder of Soul Popped Gourmet Popcorn.
Everyone calls her De J. She built the soul-food-flavored popcorn brand when she had little to nothing about seven years ago.
Now, the demand for her popcorn is growing. She runs her business out of a shop in the Arboretum shopping plaza in north Austin, called Soul Made Collective.
Her unique popcorn flavors, like fried chicken, Austin smoked barbeque and chicken and waffles, are an ode to the African-American culture in a way, Lozada said. It’s the kind of flavor in food you get from those who cook it, putting their heart and soul into the process.
“We all have grandmas, mamas and aunties that when we go to their house, you can taste the love in their food, right?” Lozada said. “I can pretty much make popcorn taste like whatever I want. It’s a superpower. Don’t ask me to explain that because I cannot. It’s just what I do.”
Lozada never thought she’d be making popcorn full-time. That is until she had no other choice.
“In 2006, I just stood up and fell and hit the floor with a pain episode that I’ve never experienced before,” Lozada said. “That started me on a journey that lasted almost nine years of debilitating, un-diagnosable pain. That kept me in and out of the hospital every month for eight and a half years.”
Eventually, she found out she had a rare uterine condition called adenomyosis. But it nearly cost her everything.
“It left me with $2 million in medical debt,” Lozada said. “$2 million.”
So, with two kids to take care of, she did what she had to do.
“In my late 40s, I found myself starting over from scratch,” Lozada said. “My product was born out of pain.”
She built her product with only $53 to her name.
“I took half of it, and I bought popcorn seed and coconut oil,” Lozada said. “I knew that that was something that I could make quickly. And I could turn and make a profit with it quickly… it was just a God-given message, ‘Go get up and go make your popcorn.'”
Lozada said she started selling popcorn out of her SUV. She felt she had nothing to lose.
“There’s power and not having anything to lose,” Lozada said. “There’s power in that.”
Some “Soul Poppers,” as Lozada calls them, have been along for the ride with her.
“I love her,” long-time customer Larry Bios said. “She’s a people person. I remember she had her kids helping her as well.”
Lozada credits her trials and tribulations in life, to her being able to start a business when she had close to no money to her name. She said as a kid, she was living on the streets homeless for a while.
Now, with her own shop, she has new opportunities to partner with stores and hotels to sell Soul Popped.
“Sometimes I just sit back and giggle, and I say, ‘I’m doing all of this because of popcorn. It’s crazy, right?'” Lozada said.
Lozada said she wants Soul Popped to be a nationally-recognized brand.
“When you think popcorn, I want it to be synonymous with Soul Popped,” she said.
At Lozada’s shop, she also sells natural products like candles, essential oils, homemade purses, clothes and other beauty products. Most of these items are from mostly Black-owned businesses.
She said it’s her way of uplifting others like herself because she knows how hard it can be to make a way out of no way.
Lozada now said she’s fundraising to try to move to a bigger space to keep up with demand for her product.