An interview with Judy Reyes, owner of Gourmet Kernel in Algonquin.
Q. Describe your business. What do you do?
A. We are a high-end gourmet popcorn store located at the Algonquin Commons mall. The Gourmet Kernel opened its kitchen in 2011. We offer the traditional gourmet popcorn flavors of caramel, cheddar and the mix, which we call "O' Sweet Cheezus," as well as creating our own unique savory flavors. Through our Taste of Business program we also offer a 'Flavor of the Month' which is chosen by college and high school students. Students are involved with product selection, marketing -- by coming up with a flavor name and sales -- the flavor that sells the best during the school year ends up being the flavor of summer and the winning school/club earns a minimum $1,000 check from the Gourmet Kernel. While our gourmet popcorn products are available to the general public, we also cater to corporations and large groups. The Gourmet Kernel's wide range of products can be packed in individual stay-fresh sealed bags to be used as promotional, client/employee appreciation items and as party favors. The size, flavor and color of our gourmet popcorn can be adapted to suit corporate branding or to an event theme.
Q. What made you start your business?
A. I love being my own boss and the challenges that it brings. I ran a successful AS400/I-Series computer consulting firm for almost 13 years and was in the industry for many years before that. But, technology ages and it was becoming more difficult to stay up-to-date with the most current in-demand skills and continue to win the contracts. As a fan of gourmet popcorn and with the kids grown, this seemed to be the time to make the change. I researched the gourmet popcorn business for four years before I made the leap.
Q. What has been the most difficult obstacle in running or starting a small business?
A. Coming up with and juggling the finances until the new business can hold its own. This also affects household finances, too. Even with applying for a SBA-backed loan, banks were not accepting my application. Financing came about by using some of my 401(k) plan monies and rolling them into a 401(k) plan supported by the new business and having the plan buy shares into the corporation. Guidant Financial was the institution that assisted with the setup and managing of the funds.
Q. What do you enjoy most about operating your business?
A. The challenges that come with owning your own business and the pride that comes with customer satisfaction and happy employees. There is also the excitement about planning for the future.
Q. Is this what you pictured yourself doing when you were young?
A. No, I wanted to work for the airlines and see the world! I grew up in a small farm town in Michigan. We had a couple of exchange students from Brazil while I was in high school and I was fascinated by their language, customs and traditions. That's when I knew there was more waiting for me, beyond the village limits. Unfortunately, with deregulation in the '80s the airline industry was literally 'up in the air' and I decided to take computer science as a minor in college. I found out I was quite good at it and then made the computer industry my career choice moving forward.
Q. What keeps you up at night?
A. Really, with still being a 'start up' company, everyday I am faced with decisions that have to be made in what is new territory for me. I want all of those decisions to be the perfect answer and direction for the store, but I know that isn't how it works. So it is and will be a living and learning experience.
Q. If you could give one tip to a rookie business owner, what would it be?
A. Put a 3-year business plan together whether you apply for a bank loan or not. It is a difficult and tedious task for a start up company, but the plan forces you to recognize where you expect your revenue to come from and from which market segments. It helps to know what your anticipated expenses will be, how much product or services you will need to sell to stay afloat until the new business can hold its own, how much you need in the bank to cover expenses until that happens and then you can judge whether you will have the passion, patience and perseverance to make it all happen.
-- Kim Mikus
• Every Monday we feature a small suburban business. We want to hear about yours. Contact Kim Mikus at firstname.lastname@example.org.