Getting it poppin’

Chico Pops! cooks up new flavors in its fourth year

Elisabeth Sterzer models the four flavors of Chico Pops!

Elisabeth Sterzer models the four flavors of Chico Pops!

Photo by Ashiah Scharaga

Chico Pops!:, 895-1290

Elisabeth Sterzer came from a “potato chip family”—it was their addicting snack of choice. But when she married her husband, Steve, she was welcomed into a family with another craving: for popcorn.

In fact, her mother-in-law, Bonnie, had a popular caramel corn recipe. And when it was passed down to Elisabeth about 30 years ago, she threw her own flavors (and candied pecans) into the mix. It continued being the life of every party and family get-together and, of course, a favorite treat to satiate late-night munchies. After a while, the encouraging choruses of “Why don’t you start a business?” started to sound less like wishful thinking and more like a delightful venture.

Sterzer officially launched Chico Pops! with her husband, a Chico urologist (and her No. 1 taste-tester) in 2014. She partnered with Gus and Nelly Ghassan, of Thatcher’s Gourmet Popcorn in San Francisco, to manufacture and distribute the product, which has allowed her more time to create new flavors (the former nurse is also the office manager at her husband’s practice).

Chico Pops!’s founding flavor was caramel corn, but Sterzer has added more over the years: kettle corn, Southwestern-style nacho cheese and Chico Style: a scrumptious cheesy kettle corn blend. “I was just going wild in my kitchen and threw something together, and everybody loved it,” she said.

A few more tantalizing concoctions are on the way: cotton candy, salted caramel and something a little … hoppy. Her popcorn is now available at more than 50 locations across Northern California, from hospitals and hotels to Chico Heat concessions and grocery stores.

A passionate cook, Sterzer said if something doesn’t taste quite right, she isn’t afraid to throw it out and go back to the drawing board. “Life is too short to eat bad food!” she told the CN&R. One of her favorite (non-corn-based) dishes to make is salmon Wellington—“The more complicated, the better.”

Following Sterzer’s commitment to volunteering, Chico Pops! has also hosted fundraisers for schools, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office and more, and has donated popcorn to the Jesus Center and Salvation Army.

Sterzer said part of the business’ secret to success is not taking things too seriously. On each Chico Pops! bag, customers can read that they cater to “foodies, freaks, professionals, geeks, moms, dads, kids, grads, spoiled dogs, greedy hogs and everyone in-between.”

“We wanted to be fun, because I don’t think any of us are that serious,” Sterzer said. “We all have fun here!”