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SMALL BUSINESS : Irvine-Based Cal-Corn to Team Up With Orville Redenbacher Popcorn

February 17, 1995|Don Lee, Times staff writer

Cal-Corn Inc., the Irvine-based operator of eight Popcorn Palace stores in Southern California, is teaming up with America's popcorn ambassador, Orville Redenbacher.

In a strategic alliance to be announced next week, Cal-Corn and Hunt-Wesson Foods--maker of Orville Redenbacher popcorn--will jointly develop Orville Redenbacher Popcorn Palace stores.

The first of these is expected to open by September. The location has not been identified and financial terms of the agreement have not been released.

For Cal-Corn, the agreement is likely to provide a big lift because Redenbacher's name is virtually synonymous with popcorn. And the news couldn't come any sooner for Bill Sanderson, owner and founder of Cal-Corn.

Last month, Sanderson was jolted by news that the earthquake in Kobe, Japan, had shut down one of two Popcorn Palaces there. The Popcorn Palaces in Japan (the other is in Osaka) are owned by JTB Creation, which has a licensing agreement with Cal-Corn that pays Sanderson handsome royalties.

It wasn't the first time that Sanderson's business suffered because of an earthquake. Indeed, just one year before the Kobe quake, the Northridge temblor had ruined two Popcorn Palaces, one inside the Northridge Fashion Mall and another in West Los Angeles--both of which remain closed. Despite the losses from the Northridge quake and the recession, Sanderson sees things turning around now--especially with the link to the professorial Redenbacher, who lives in La Jolla.

Sanderson, who couldn't eat enough popcorn as a youngster, started Cal-Corn 13 years ago on a shoestring budget, selling his car and his house to open his first Popcorn Palace in Heritage Plaza in Irvine. The 40-year-old graduate of USC's MBA program donned a cooking outfit and started experimenting with popcorn flavors. Today, his eight U.S. stores sell grape, jalapeno, cinnamon oat bran and 22 other flavors of popcorn. Sanderson says he expects revenue this year to reach about $7 million.

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