By Bob Carlton al.com
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) For Father’s Day, "Naughty But Nice" kettle corn has partnered with "The Black Man Can", a national nonprofit that “works to celebrate, educate and inspire men and boys of color,” to offer a special-edition The Black Man Can snack pack.
It takes a village, Tanesha Sims-Summers will tell you, to run a small business.
And as the founder and CEO of Birmingham’s Naughty But Nice Kettle Corn Co., she speaks from first-hand experience.
Sims-Summers always dreamed of owning her own business, and after careers in investment banking and digital marketing, she launched her gourmet kettle corn business in 2014.
“You never know how God will call you to use your gifts and talents,” she says. “And the market was very receptive to kettle corn, so we’ve been popping ever since.”
Her family, Sims-Summers says, has supported her every step of the way. It started with her aunt, Janice Noel from Fredericksburg, Va., who helped raise Sims-Summers when she was a little girl growing up in Virginia, and who, many years later, inspired her to start her business.
“She gave me this grand idea,” Sims-Summers recalls. “She said, ‘You should think about kettle corn. It’s very popular here in Virginia.’ I was like, ‘Really? What is kettle corn?’”
Sims-Summers’ previous knowledge of kettle corn was limited to selling tins of it for her son Jaylen’s Cub Scouts fundraiser, but she started doing some research and discovered there may be a market – and an appetite – for it in Birmingham.
She eventually bought a kettle corn popper and set up shop in the party-supply store owned by her father, Emmett Sims, in Birmingham’s Five Points West area.
When the equipment came in, we were like, ‘What in the world did we just do?’” she remembers. “It was like these big pieces of equipment; it was not like a little popcorn machine. . . .
“My father was gracious enough to put the equipment together for us, and we did a practice round at his facility on Third Avenue West.
“So, my family was just a very integral part,” she adds. “My cousin (Fred Sims Jr.) would pull our trailer around town for us as we learned how to pull a trailer and stuff I had never done because I was in corporate America, behind a desk.” (A friend, Tiffany Turner, also was a partner with Sims-Summers early on, but she is no longer involved with the business.)
Noel, Sims-Summers’ aunt, came to Alabama from Virginia to help her niece care for her newborn baby girl, Jacee, but she also played a big role in getting the business off the ground.
“I just have to give her major props,” Sims-Summers says. “She was here about six months, which worked out great because that’s when the launch of the company started.
“She was able to help us train and learn how to use the equipment,” Sims-Summers adds. “So, it was just like a dual kind of purpose -- her being here to care for my child so she wouldn’t have to go to daycare and, of course, helping us learn the craft of creating the product itself.”
Later, after the birth of her second daughter, Janaah, Sims-Summers left her corporate job for good to concentrate on developing her fledgling kettle corn business.
“I always associate her birth with the birth of the company,” she says.
‘A little sweet, a little salty’
Naughty But Nice started with three flavors of kettle corn – Original Sweet & Salty, Cheddar Makes It Better and French Toast – and made its debut at the Whistle Stop Festival in Irondale in 2014.
“We started with a basic kettle corn that most people are familiar with -- a little sweet, a little salty,” Sims-Summers says. “Then we started playing with other ways to create traditional kettle corn that you would find at a fair.
“That was the idea,” she adds. “We wanted to elevate the idea of kettle corn. It’s not just fair food. We wanted to really reenvision the product itself, reenvision how people saw it, and offer a new way for them to access it and it still be fresh like you got it from the fair.”
Naughty But Nice has since added several more flavors to its rotation, including Salted Caramel Crunch, Lemon Ice, Jalapeno Popper, Strawberry-Vanilla, Green Apple Pie and the B’ham Mix, which is a combination of the Cheddar Makes It Better and the French Toast flavors.
Bags and tins of the kettle corn are available at such farmers markets as the Pepper Place Saturday Market, the Ross Bridge Farmers Market and the Woodlawn Street Market, as well as at pop-up events at the Pizitz Food Hall and through the Naughty But Nice Kettle Corn Co. website.
It is also available in bulk for corporate events, community fundraisers and family celebrations.
Two years ago, the Naughty But Nice Kettle Corn Co. moved into a small production facility at 5363 First Ave. North in Woodlawn. It also doubles as a retail space where customers may pick up kettle corn Tuesdays through Thursdays.
Also, this week, a new Naughty But Nice food truck will hit the streets of Birmingham and will begin making the rounds at special events and in neighborhoods around the city.
“We are hoping the kettle corn truck will help create even more brand awareness as people actually see the brand,” Sims-Summers says.
‘It’s not just popcorn’ Sims-Summers, who graduated from John Carroll Catholic High School, has put her marketing degree from UAB to work creating and sustaining her brand.
“I’m a marketing person, so I liked the idea of creating a fresh brand, a purposeful brand, a fun brand,” she says. “Our tagline is ‘Fun. Fresh. Festive.’ And our slogan is, ‘It’s Not Just Popcorn.’ . . .
“As a small business, you have to kind of take that time to delve into the psyche of your customer,” she adds. “You know, ‘Why are you actually supporting us?’
“And when you first start out, it’s all good. It’s like the new car effect, right? Everybody is excited about it. But how do you sustain as a small business? How do you keep it fresh? How do you keep it fun? And how do you keep your community and your customers engaged?”
Sims-Summers calls her faithful customers “Popheads,” and she has printed “Loyal Pophead” T-shirts for them to wear around town and show their support.
She and her husband and business partner, Clem Summers, have even come up with a definition for Pophead:
“They are fun and happy people who enjoy our unique, fresh, addictive, sweet and salty kettle popcorn.
“They are foodie trailblazers who crave Naughty But Nice Kettle Corn for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“They often buy it to share with friends, family and co-workers, but the struggle to share even one kernel is real.
“Popheads hang out with us often, rave of their experiences and help make the world a sweeter place to live.”
‘Community-focused and purpose-driven’ As a small business owner, Sims-Summers says she is grateful to such nonprofit organizations as REV Birmingham and Create Birmingham, which encourage and nurture entrepreneurs such as herself.
Last year, the Birmingham chapter of Les Dames d’ Escoffier -- an international professional society of women in the food, wine and hospitality industries – presented Sims-Summers its 2019 New Entrepreneur Award.
As part of its “make your local pop” co-branding campaign, Naughty But Nice Kettle Corn has also partnered with such Birmingham businesses as Eugene’s Hot Chicken for a limited-time-only hot chicken-flavored kettle corn and Baskets, Gifts & Things for a kettle corn gift basket.