While working for the city, the socially inclined court staff and lawyers frequently threw food-related get-togethers. Zion’s standard contribution was homemade caramel corn, and his colleagues—literally—ate it up.
“I brought [caramel corn] in until I couldn’t afford to make it any more,” he recalls about the demand for his sweet concoction. “And then I began to sell it—at cost, per city rules.”
Soon he was developing new flavors to test on his eager colleagues. Along the way, he was “surprised how happy it made me to sell popcorn and watch people enjoy it.” Zion had never considered a career selling popcorn. But the demand was telling him that he may have had a serious business opportunity. “It got to the point that I was coming home from work and cooking until I went to bed just to keep up with the orders that were coming in from the courthouse.” Having an independent streak and a newfound love for his burgeoning business, he started to consider a career change.
It wasn’t an overnight decision. He took three months and consulted with his family. He had to consider financial and other implications. “I am lucky enough to be married to a woman who supports me in this endeavor and has a steady job,” said Zion. Together with supportive partners, Zion was able to make a go of it.
At first, they ran their caramel corn business out of a pop-up shop in a designer furniture store, making their various flavors in a rented retail kitchen. Eventually, they leased their own space, building out a 300-square-foot kitchen, allowing Zion to make popcorn on site.
Zion’s two most popular flavors are vinegar caramel corn and beer caramel corn. He’s had a few disasters too, like Nutella caramel corn, which taught Zion to modify one part of the recipe at a time during testing.
Though Popcorn Asylum, his business venture, is a far cry from courtroom work, Zion still uses his legal skills in his new job. For example, he knew how to form an LLC. “I also do a lot of our contract negotiations—our lease and construction contracts and negotiations with our insurance company,” he said. “I haven’t had to pay lawyers as much as a normal start-up because I understand legalese.”
Another area where his lawyer training is valuable is in regulatory compliance. As a small business owner producing food, Zion must comply with federal, state, and local regulations. This involves statutory interpretation, permitting, and representing the business before regulatory and legislative bodies. To do so, Zion must draw on skills learned in law school and practice like critical reasoning, attention to detail, and advocacy.