Before founding Pop Karma, Jean Tsai was a self-proclaimed “junk food vegetarian.” She didn’t eat meat and ran regularly, but she also ate a lot of processed foods. When she took a cholesterol test at a corporate health fair, she thought her physical and dietary habits would return good results. “I thought that I would have these amazing numbers and actually, my numbers weren’t that great,” said Jean. “After that I decided to eat whole, unprocessed foods for 30 days, and I felt a lot better and my cholesterol went down.”
She knew her dietary habits needed to change, but Jean couldn’t give up her love of snacking, so she and a friend began developing recipes for something both snackable and healthy. In 2013, Jean opened Pop Karma as a popcorn shop in New York City but closed it in 2018 to focus on building a wholesale business in Chicago.
Today, Jean’s products are on shelves throughout Chicagoland and online.
As a tenant of The Hatchery and a vendor at the Garfield Park Neighborhood Market, Jean developed a relationship with Beidler Elementary School in Garfield Park. In an effort to promote healthy eating, she started donating a bag of popcorn to the school for every bag of popcorn sold. Jean is also working with the YMCA to continue sharing healthy snacking with the West Side community by donating popcorn to the Urban Warriors afterschool program.
In 2021, Jean received a small business loan from Allies for Community Business. “Working capital is always a challenge so the low-interest loan is a big help,” said Jean. The loan helped her expand into new markets beyond Chicago, including the Southern California store chain, Erewhon Market. The funds also helped her cover production and shipping costs.
Looking forward, Jean wants to get Pop Karma into larger retailers. “I want to eventually be available everywhere,” said Jean. “People always ask where they can find it, and I want to be in more places where people are.”