Virginia Githiri believes that when people hold back any of their talents, “something in the cycle of humanity is broken.” So she intentionally keeps her talents out front. 

A lecturer in applied health science in the Indiana University School of Public Health, Githiri wears multiple hats on the side: integrative wellness life and health coach, gospel recording artist, and proprieter of PopKorn: Kernels with a Twist—an online and brick-and-mortar flavored-popcorn business. 

An avowed lover of all things popcorn, Githiri, 43, began her business in 2016 with personal and online sales. She later opened a storefront on East Kirkwood before being recruited to College Mall in early 2018, where she has a shop next door to Target’s interior entrance. 

Githiri grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Her mother was an Alabama-born educator who died of lupus at the age of 46. Her father was an accountant who moved to the U.S. from Kenya at age 16. She says her father always had several side businesses, and, as one of three kids, “I was the one who always noticed that. I would always sell more Girl Scout cookies than anyone in my troop.” 

She came to Bloomington to earn an undergraduate degree in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, later adding an MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University, as well as master’s and doctoral degrees from IU’s School of Public Health. 

Of PopKorn she says, “I am bootstrapping this business.” But she learned from her parents’ experiences that “challenges are always temporary” and that each provides lessons. “I’m not afraid of failure,” Githiri says.  

PopKorn is handmade in batches weekly. The more than 25 flavors range from plain to savory and sweet creations, plus custom flavors Githiri may dream up on demand for private events like weddings and IU functions. PopKorn is an official IU licensed vendor.

Flavors like Smokin’ Taco and the seasonal Holiday Pumpkin Pie are based on recipes with complex spices and fresh ingredients. For example, PopKorn’s jalapeño flavor uses peppers that are “washed, cut, dehydrated, and made into powder,” Githiri says. “We use real food.” Her personal favorite—aptly named Dr. G’s Favorite PopKorn—is a blend of caramel and her plain Purely PopKorn.

“Popcorn is a blank canvas,” Githiri says. “Whatever I can conceptualize, I believe I can create.”