Can popcorn change the world? Tanesha Sims-Summers thinks so. Tanesha is the founder of Naughty But Nice Kettle Corn Co. In 2019, her company’s kettle corn was voted Birmingham’s favorite sweet and salty snack food by Birmingham magazine. And this just scratches the surface of all the accolades she’s received since she launched her business in 2014.
Naughty But Nice was a finalist in REV Birmingham’s The Big Pitch, presented by PNC Bank in 2015. Tanesha’s been honored as one of the city’s Top 40 Under 40 by Birmingham Business Journal, and Naughty But Nice was named Best Minority Business of the Year for 2021.
Growing up, Tanesha knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur but she wasn’t sure what kind of business she’d start. In 2014 she partnered with a childhood friend to start selling kettle corn at local farmers’ markets. Soon, Naughty But Nice Kettle Corn was popping up at weddings, birthday parties, community events, corporate functions, and more. Today Naughty But Nice has a production store to fulfill orders and, of course, Ms. Poppy – the Naughty But Nice food truck.
Tanesha lovingly refers to her loyal customers as “PopHeads,” and she’s determined to uplift their lives one sweet and salty snack at a time. We’re excited to introduce our newest FACE of Birmingham, Tanesha Sims-Summers of Naughty But Nice Kettle Corn Co.
You’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but how did you decide to build a business with kettle corn?
My aunt, who practically raised me, told me I should think about kettle corn. She told me of a friend who was a single mom of two kids who had left her corporate job to sell kettle corn. She talked about the popularity of it and how people would go crazy over this kettle corn.
I decided to take a chance with this idea. I wanted to create a product that was something that people could feel good about but at the same time was really fun and I could incorporate my marketing background.
When your former business partner moved on to pursue other projects, what motivated you to stick with Naughty But Nice Kettle Corn?
We started together and we severed our partnership in 2017, and it was a challenging time because we had always envisioned having a business together. I had to pray and ask for God to give me the strength and endurance to carry on.
God gave me the vision, and I had to be obedient. I knew this was something that I was doing much more than just for money. It was to impact my community and leave a legacy and to become a legacy.
What impact do you hope to have with your business and what legacy are you trying to build?
Obviously, you think, ‘Kettle corn – how can that change the world?’ But I think we can use anything that we do, if we’re intentional, to really focus on what we stand for as a person.
The main impact is as simple as seeing a company that is Black-owned that is sustainable and well-branded. And we have a high level of customer service. Seeing a Black-woman-owned business be able to start something and grow it with a level of excellence makes an impact — the audacity to say I can do something like this.
When I hire people, for me, the mission is to enhance people’s lives personally and professionally. And this is anyone who aligns with what we stand for. It doesn’t matter your race, but obviously, I can hopefully give people of color more opportunities to explore their skill sets and really raise the bar for their own lives.
I think the legacy for me is people being able to see that it is possible. I want my kids to see that if you take a seed and plant it and you’re patient enough to let it grow, you can do whatever you would like to do — especially when you have great intention and purpose behind it.
As you’ve grown Naughty But Nice, you’ve participated in several business development programs such as Create Birmingham’s CO.STARTERS and the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program. Why was it important for you to be a part of these programs?
I hit the ground running really submerging myself into those types of programs because I knew that’s what I would need to fuel me and to be around that type of energy. It’s important to educate yourself.
I do these programs because they fill me and keep me sharp and challenge me to address those areas of weakness in my life that I need to sharpen to be a better leader. These programs have helped me find a community of people that help to steer me in the right direction.
You’re a wife and mother of four. How do you balance business with family?
For me, it’s understanding that my first job is being a mom and wife. This is where I am in life. My children are young, and they need me. If I have to do something with my kids and I have to do admin stuff, I’ll do that [admin stuff] at night — staying up late, sometimes until 1 a.m. That may not be the healthiest thing, but I also know this is a season.
I keep a calendar and journal, and I always write down my goals. I understand that my children are going to remember more than what I did in a business; they’re going to remember how I made them feel and if I was there for them. That’s what keeps me guided when I feel like I’m all over the place.
What advice would you give to other women interested in entrepreneurship?
Buckle down in your spirituality. Get your mind right because the journey of entrepreneurship stretches you in almost every area of life like no other career.
Understand that there are phases. Your business – just like a child – experiences phases. And be OK if you’re in a slow-growth mode.
Focus on what you want as a person. You will read so much about how to make your business better and how to make money, but when you’re better, everything around you changes.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I like doing outdoor stuff like going for a hike. Me and the girls love to cuddle up in bed and watch movies together. There’s never a wrong time to eat, and we like to travel.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon. I feel like that applies to every area in life because sometimes we’re so anxious to get to whatever the next level is, and we don’t take the time to be present and enjoy where we are. Every level of life requires something different from you, and so look at the things you experience as a part of your life lesson and journey to go to wherever else it is you need to go next.
Name three things you can’t live without.
Bleach, hot sauce, and Vaseline.
Thank you, Tanesha! All photography by Jennifer Tietjen Purser.
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