Before starting Poppin’ Z’s Gourmet Popcorn, Amy Zimmerman knew nothing about kettle corn or gourmet popcorn. The more she researched, the more she realized that the skills required to make and distribute kettle corn closely aligned with the abilities of her son, Danny.
Danny has an intellectual and developmental disability. When he was two years-old, he suffered from a mysterious seizure. After spending a week in the ICU unit of the local hospital and enduring a week of tests, the doctors concluded that Danny had an infection that destroyed some brain tissue.
“He had to relearn everything,” Amy says. “Once he figured out how to start moving, then he couldn’t figure out how to stop! It’s been a long journey, but he now has a pretty good life. He’s very happy. He’s very involved with his day-to-day activities, and he can do lots of things.”
It’s been over twenty years since that fateful week, and Danny is now a happy and healthy adult. Part of that happiness comes from working at Poppin’ Z’s Gourmet Popcorn, which was founded as a way to enrich Danny’s life by engaging him with the community. Founded in 2011, it was originally called Poppin’ Z’s Kettle Corn and only operated during summers when Danny and his brother Matthew were off school. After graduating high school, Poppin’ Z’s expanded their product line so Danny can be working year-round. It is now called Poppin’ Z’s Gourmet Popcorn to showcase their line of cheese popcorn, caramel corn and gift boxes.
“I don’t worry about the stuff he can’t do, I focus on the things he can do,” Amy says about Danny. “And we build on that. That’s what I want for the people that we want to employ in our business.”
The same opportunities presented to Danny are also extended to members of the local community with intellectual and developmental disabilities, who help out during busy times such as the holiday season. Like with Danny, Amy only focuses on what her employees can do.
“We focus on what they can do, how to get them from where they are now to where they want to be, and work on that part,” Amy says. “We don’t worry about the things they don’t need to know about or that isn’t important in their life.”
While Poppin’ Z’s Gourmet Popcorn sells more than 50 flavors of gourmet popcorn, their best-sellers can be found on WisconsinMade Artisan Collective.
Matthew, Danny’s brother who is also involved with the business, has been instrumental in experimenting and developing their flavors of gourmet popcorn. Naturally, everyone has their favorites.
“My go-to favorite is the Green Bay Mix, which is the caramel and cheese variety” Amy says. “Danny’s is cheese, so he’ll eat anything cheesy. Matthew switches around quite a bit. He likes to experiment with different flavors. I get to satisfy my favorite cravings with whatever people are ordering. Then I make a little extra and bring that home.”