Why do people love gourmet popcorn? Many say because it is different, tasty, comforting. Others just love the smells of childhood. Carmen Milagros Torres’ gourmet popcorn startup story is one of empowerment, passion, commitment and the courage to share family traditions, a Latino twist for the most demanding palates.
She is the owner of Tampa Bay’s The Popcornerie, a family owned business that aims at bringing the highest quality of freshly made gourmet popcorn to its customers. Carmen has recently been selected a semi-finalist on Project American Dreams, an initiative launched by HSN and Dreamers Ventures to feature Latino-owned businesses.
Carmen’s inspiration and driving force
Carmen is a New Yorker of Spanish descent; both her parents are from the beautiful island of Puerto Rico. Carmen’s inspiration to start her own gourmet popcorn business came from her experiences as a young, eleven-year-old girl helping her abuela’( Spanish for grandmother) make popcorn balls for their friends using original, cherished recipes. “I finally put the pieces together and decided that I wanted to carry this family tradition. It just felt right. Ironically, my daughter is named ‘Palomita’ –‘Palomitas’ or ‘palomitas de maíz’ is the Spanish equivalent of popcorn–”, Carmen told LatinasinBusiness.us.
Being a single, working mother to three children, her children’s future was always her top priority. She was especially determined to ensure that her daughter, “who will face more challenges in life than others simply because she is a double minority”, has a secure future. When she reached a point in her life where her children were no longer dependent on her, she decided to concentrate on starting her own business.
Initial obstacles and how she overcame them
When she first set out to start her own gourmet popcorn business, she could not afford to leave her day job. Amidst the grueling task of trying to balance both her day job and setting up her business, she many times found herself wanting to give up.
After her grandfather’s death, she nearly did. However, her children, the very reason she decided to start her business in the first place, told her to keep it going. Their advice was all the encouragement she needed to get back to work with renewed zeal and fervor.
Carmen Milagros believes in turning every seemingly negative situation into a positive one. Recounting an incident from the time when she was still in the experimental stages of making her gourmet popcorn caramel recipe, she talks about how that incident has always stayed with her.
“I have a habit of placing my reading glasses at the top of my head when I’m not using them. On that particular day, I left the popcorn in the oven to cook and reached for my glasses in order to read,” she recalls. Unable to read, as the words looked blurry to her, she remembers wondering how her glasses had gotten so dirty. When she tried to clean them, she then realized the lenses had fallen off from the frame.
Much to her astonishment, she found the lenses melted at the bottom of the oven landing. “I have kept those lenses until this day and fondly think of them as my lucky charm,” she said with a smile.
Growth and success of gourmet popcorn “The Popcornerie”
Her unwavering dedication and out of the box thinking is what makes Carmen stand out from the rest. She embraces her roots and incorporates the rich Spanish heritage in all aspects of her business. A great believer in self-improvement, she constantly finds ways to enhance her product. “There’s always room for better”, she asserted.
When she was selected as a semi-finalist on Project American Dreams, she knew the road to success was opening in front of her. Project American Dreams, launched by HSN and Dreamers Ventures, is a business competition to discover, mentor and launch products created by Latino entrepreneurs. If selected among the five lucky winners, this opportunity will give her the right platform and encouragement to boost her business.
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Carmen’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs
She stresses the importance of hard work, sound research and the courage to keep going even when the odds are against you. “Never give up”, Carmen stated. She also talks about how keeping her family close and going to them for advice has helped her grow both personally and professionally.
“My children are my driving force”, she said, “My eldest son Damien constantly tells me ‘focus on nuts and bolts mom’. My children are my biggest fans and my toughest critics and I love and respect them for it”, she signed off.
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