Wednesday, October 17, 2012

New in New York: Populence and Pop Karma Make a Crop Pop

Delicious popcorn at the New in New York popcorn venue Pop Karma
By Mitch Broder

For Porcini Cheddar popcorn, you want the East Side. For Three Cheese popcorn, you want the West Side. Then again, for Pumpkin Spice popcorn, you want the West Side, whereas for Bacon Apple Bourbon Caramel popcorn, you want the East Side.

It could have been simple. But nothing ever is. So the popcorn department of your life just got complicated. Through what you’d have to call karmic opulence, New York has just furnished you with two new popcorn shops — Pop Karma and Populence.

Visit the New in New York Populence

Each is a little place run by a woman inspired by corn. Both popped up at practically the same time, though apparently by coincidence. Each offers popcorn in flavors that you don’t get in cellophane bags. Both sell popcorn with a conviction that it will make you happy and healthy.

Pick your popcorn flavor at Pop Karma

So take your pick. Or don’t, for if you love popcorn, you’ll want to try both. They’ve made themselves just different enough so that you have no choice.

The menu at this New in New York establishment makes your mouth water
Populence, in the West Village, is run by Maggie Paulus, whose very life was essentially launched by popcorn. “My dad proposed to my mom with a ring in a Cracker Jack box,” she told me. “So growing up, popcorn was always associated with something fun.”

Pop Karma, on the Lower East Side, is run by Jean Tsai, who wants to inspire you in much the same way that popcorn inspired her. On the chalkboard outside her store, she puts inspiring quotes like Herbert Spencer’s “The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.”

A white board of popcorn goodness at the New in New York Pop Karma
Populence carries six flavors at a time — usually three sweet and three savory. The top sellers have been Salted Caramel, Sun-dried Tomato, and Jalapeño Cheddar. There’s also Kettle Corn, Ginger Caramel, Garlic Rosemary, Real Raspberry, and Sweet Cinnamon. Salted Caramel could count as sweet and savory.

Pop Karma carries six flavors at a time — usually three “classic” and three seasonal. The classic are Caramel, Mediterranean, and Zen Cheddar. The seasonal have included Barbecue, Margarita, and White Truffle Cheddar, and now include Za’atar, which is described as “a visit to a Middle Eastern souk.”

The Populence Web site says: “Our artisanal method of creating cornfections involves small batches of heirloom popcorn combined with the finest whole ingredients.”

The Pop Karma Web site says: “Our ingredients lists are minimal since we source the best food possible from responsible, sustainable producers.”

It’s close, but I have to give that round to Populence, because of “cornfections,” and in spite of “heirloom.”

Don't stop with just a days worth of popcorn, bring a bucket of Populence home with you

Maggie and Jean, of course, are not the first to have popcorn stores in New York, regardless of which one of them thought of having one first. Awhile ago, Times Square had a store called Popcorn, Indiana. In the eighties, the Upper East Side had Jack’s Corn Crib. The Jack was Jack Klugman.

Those are gone, of course. But they were chains. Pop Karma and Populence aren’t. Yet. And their owners both seem devoted to their products and their neighborhoods.

As the Pop Karma Web site puts it: “Kind words and kind actions inspire a beautiful day. A lifetime of beautiful days is a work of art. Live it.”

A good sign is an imperative for any New in New York establishment

Pop into Populence, at 1West Eighth Street, and Pop Karma, at 95 Orchard Street, in New York City.


  1. My choices: Margarita at one...Salted Caramel from the other. Would've loved to go to Jack's Corn Crib. Great story & photos. I can almost smell the popcorn.

  2. Of course, I am going for the garlic. No question. Then the BBQ. Guess I'll just have to "pop" on over. Gosh, that was "corny". (You're not funny, Mommy.)

  3. Where's the chocolate? In Ecuador they served popcorn while we waited for our Italian dinner...odd combo to say the least but perhaps it will find a place here in NY! Great finds again! Thanks.

  4. Being a huge fan of Popcorn I have tried both places and am not impressed. I stopped by grub street food festival the other day after seeing another popcorn company would be featured in addition to Pop Karma. Their name is Cultured Confections and they are untouchable.Their fresh & innovative flavors will change your view of popcorn forever (in the best way possible).