Business is popping

Elisabeth Sterzer

Photo courtesy of Chico Pops

Elisabeth Sterzer has been making caramel corn for 30 years. When the Chico State alumna and licensed practical nurse isn’t working in her husband, Steven’s, urology lab, she’s likely in the kitchen—she has a serious passion for cooking. She says around the time she and Steven moved to Chico—about three decades ago—her mother-in-law made her the most delicious caramel corn she’d ever tasted. Sterzer fine-tuned the recipe over the years, and she’s dedicated to not adding GMOs. She and Steven always wanted to start a side business, so five years ago they co-founded Chico Pops. Sterzer increased her flavors to four, all of which are now available at 50 locations throughout the North State and as far away as Reno. Find out more about Chico Pops at,, or call them at: 844-GOT-POPS.

How did you hit on the right recipe?

Well, we have four flavors and you just know when you’ve hit the right mixture. Our most popular one is the caramel corn with pecans. I go crazy in the kitchen and kept playing with my mother-in-law’s recipe, adding more butter, pecans and caramel. But we also have kettle corn, Chico-style, which is cheesy-salty, and Southwestern-style nacho cheese flavors.

How do you feel about Chico Pops’ progress?

Very good. It took about a year to get more flavors, but now people often recognize me as “the Chico Pops lady” and always tell me how much they love it. The popularity has increased these last two years because we added flavors and have a great salesman. We are now in S & S Produce, New Earth Market, Butte College, and every Safeway and Raley’s from Redding to Yuba City.

I’ve heard you also choose to give back to the community.

Yes, we also use Chico Pops for fundraisers, such as [for] breast cancer. Last year, Durham schools raised funds for themselves. Groups sell our products and keep half, which is more than they get from other fundraisers. We’ve also donated Chico Pops to the Jesus Center and the Salvation Army.

You have unique bags.

Yes, each flavor comes in a 3 oz. paper bag with a plastic inner lining that lasts about a year. We started out with just cellophane, but that didn’t keep them fresh long.

What are your future plans?

We want to go into bigger stores here, and expand to Sacramento and San Francisco. We also want to add more flavors, such as one with peanuts, which the public has been clamoring for.

How long have you enjoyed cooking?

Most of my adult life, especially after meeting my husband. I love to cook foreign dishes like roasted duck and salmon wellington. My husband says, “Why go out to eat when the best restaurant is right here?”