With $53 in her bank account, De Juana “De J.” Lozada took a chance on a new beginning, though she believes she may have had some help from above.
“It was the lowest point in my life,” Lozada said of 2016 when, while working as an executive, raising her niece, two sons and taking care of her father, she was suddenly sent packing from her job. “A single mother with two kids in college and I had no income. It was a rough time. I didn’t know what to do.”
A spiritual person, she said she asked God for guidance and he responded, “make popcorn.”
Her family includes a younger son who serves in the U.S. Marine Corps and an older son, an engineer, who has Asperger’s Syndrome. Lozada said he is the “inspiration” behind Soul Popped.
“We love popcorn in my house,” she said. “We have it every day. When you have autism, sometimes chemicals and dyes can exacerbate your symptoms, so I became very aware of what is in popcorn.”
Lozado said popcorn is “a highly chemicalized product,” counting some varieties found in popcorn shops as well as microwavable bags among the most non-natural version of the snack. She said she began making popcorn “the old fashioned way,” on the stove, adding blends of flavor with spices and herbs from her kitchen — but with a twist.
“Soul food is the food of my heritage,” Lozado said. “While we think of soul food as being really unhealthy, soul food is primarily made up of a lot of healthy grains, fruits and vegetables. Because I was intimately familiar with these foods, it was really easy to develop popcorn flavors based off of those foods.”
She replaced fried chicken with fried chicken popcorn, a vegan food because it is comprised of herbs and dried vegetables for flavoring. Soon, Lozado developed more popcorn tastes. After making the rounds at local farmers markets for several years and staffing pop up shops at Nordstrom, the Pflugerville resident opened her first brick and mortar location Oct. 1 in Barton Creek Square Mall, on the lower level by Macy’s. While the new shop marks a first in Lozado’s life, the storefront also represented a milestone for the mall: Soul Popped is Barton Creek’s first black-owned business, according to Lozado.
“They’ve had black(-owned) businesses as kiosks, but not as a retail storefront,” she said of Simon Property Group that manages the mall. “I’m just grateful to the current leadership of Simon Property who saw the potential of our brand as a good fit, not only for the natural adopters of soul food-inspired flavors but for their community of shoppers as well.
Soul Popped’s menu includes other vegan options such as Big Momma’s Fried Chicken, Austin Smoke BBQ and The Real Dill Sour Pickle while vegetarian selections include Chicken and Waffles, Banana Pudding and Heavenly Macaroni & Cheese. All Soul Popped popcorns are gluten-free and made with coconut oil. The eatery also features pork rinds—Keto-diet friendly—as well as lemonade made from simple syrups.
Soul Popped products are created in the company’s manufacturing center in Pflugerville, and the business has two full-time and two part-time employees.
Lozado calls her faithful customers “Soul Poppers.”
“Our challenge is getting people into the door to try the product because it’s hard to imagine what Chicken and Waffles popcorn or Banana Pudding popcorn might taste like,” Lozado said. “Once we get you inside, it’s really easy to make the sale.”
She said she’s amassed 27 popcorn recipes and plans to open a second shop in the Domain in the future. With the hashtag “#lovepopshere,” she envisions Soul Popped stores growing throughout the country, possibly using a franchise business model “so we can spread the love.”
However, given all of her success, Lozado said a popcorn company “was not in the plan.”
After earning multiple college degrees—including English and communications—at the University of North Carolina, Lozado headed to Europe as a staffer in the U.S. Department of Defense’s Civilian Public Affairs Department. She was responsible for command communications strategies. Later, she earned an advanced certificate as an international public affairs officer before returning home with her children and working in government positions.
“I feel like Soul Popped is really divinely given,” Lozado said. “Everything about my trajectory, getting to this space in food is really like a God-given gift. And, I was inspired to do it.”
For more information, go to www.soulpopped.com.