A Magazine About Food, Art & Exchange In Midtown Kingston, Published By The Hudson Valley Current.

Member Spotlight: At BjornQorn (and Skate Time) things are really poppin’

The first batches of BjornQorn were popped with reflected sunshine. But before too long, Bjorn Quenemoen and Jamie O’Shea realized they had a popcorn tiger by the tail. Just like their fellow Bard students back in the day, it was love at first nibble for folks in the wider world. A Modern Farmer story from 2019 noted that the snack was a staple in the cupboards of both Saturday Night Live and Late Night with Steven Colbert. It’s the corn—uh, qorn—that has taken the world by storm.

“Starting out with solar popping was novel, and it kinda set the tone for our business, but we quickly outgrew that,” says Quenemoen. “We now use conventional popping equipment powered by solar panels.”

The recipe, developed back on the Minnesota farm where Quenemoen grew up, has stayed the same: nonGMO popcorn seasoned with all natural, gluten free, and vegan ingredients. Instead of cheese or butter, the popcorn’s seasoned with nutritional yeast, full of protein and B-vitamins making for one good snack that’s seriously good for you. Currently, they’re popping about 100,000 pounds of corn a year, which is marketed to about 1,000 accounts nationwide and through their own BjornQorn website.

“Right from the start, it had a more widespread appeal than we ever expected,” says Quenemoen. “We weren’t sure. It’s been a slow, steady growth, and then you look back and realize how far you’ve come and

think, ‘Wow, well, that worked.’ So now we strive to make it interesting for ourselves and keep it interesting for other people, try to do things the way we want business to be conducted as opposed to the way other people tell you to do it.”

That originality, which comes naturally to the Midwestern farm kid and artist/inventor team, is what led to their purchase of the Skate Time facility on Route 209 in Accord. “Part of the reason we got excited is that the roof is ideal for solar,” says Quenemoen. “Here again, we really had no expectations or data to go on. We didn’t know how many people would show up, or whether we’d be able to hire people.”

They soon realized that they didn’t have to reinvent the wheel or even the wheeled footgear. They were restoring a beloved centerpiece of the Rondout Valley community, one that had been missed by customers and employees alike ever since it closed. “Our general manager came out of the blue and offered her services, and she’s great. A lot of people who used to work here came right back, and the roller derby community came in and worked on it,” Quenemoen says. “And when we opened the doors people just came in in droves.”

“It’s cooled a bit, but it’s steadily way beyond what we expected, so we’re really happy with that. Now we’re putting together the financing to put a world class food production facility in there too, so we’ve got a whole lot of balls in the air.”

From the beginning, the operation has been deeply rooted in the good Rondout Valley soil, working with legacy family farms—Kelder’s for a while, and now Schoonmaker’s—marketing to local eateries, stores and breweries, and working with Rondout Savings Bank on finances. Belonging to the Hudson Valley Current was a natural development. “Back home, there was a lot of unregulated local currency, Buck Town Bucks or whatever,” says Quenemoen. “I always liked the whole idea, and I like that the Current has a more finished feel, with beautiful notes. We have customers who pay us in Currents, including two wholesale accounts, and I hope it continues to grow. We plan to start taking Currents at Skate Time—using local money locally helps us all. In fact, I need to get online and find a few things to spend my Currents on.”

When it’s finished, Skate Time—one of the finest floors for miles around will have a beer and wine section and a window to the popcorn production area, adding a sort of brewery feel to the poppery. Already, there are DJ nights and special occasion celebrations of all sorts. “We’re gradually integrating the two businesses,” says Quenemoen. “I’m excited! I’d started taking my daughter there before the pandemic, when she was just four, and it feels really good to be skating again. We have a really talented group of people putting their heads together just to make the whole experience as great as it can possibly be.”