We had the good fortune of connecting with Michael Norr and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Michael, how did you come up with the idea for your business?
Sweetzer Gourmet Popcorn is a passion project that’s the product of the pandemic and wanting to continue to get together with best friends. For years, my family had a standing pizza and game night with our closest friends at our home on, yes, Sweetzer Avenue. Due to the pandemic, the gathering relocated outdoors and became pizza and movie night. Since one of the things I love about going to the movies is filling up a giant tub of popcorn, we would stop our movie at the halfway point in order to microwave a few bags and grab some candy.

It wasn’t too long until I purchased a popper and used the intermission to make a second popcorn option, kettle corn. With kettle corn a success, weeks later I attempted to recreate the caramel corn that my wife and I used to love at the ArcLight Hollywood. It did not go well. My first batch was overly chewy and not all that tasty. Not a surprise, since I’m a fifth grade teacher with no culinary experience. But, as someone who works every day to inspire kids to set goals and then work tirelessly to achieve them, I knew I had to try again. And again. And again.

Eventually, magic happened! My caramel popcorn was delicious. In fact, it was better than any I’d ever tasted. From that point on I became obsessed with what could be done with caramelized popcorn and what I could do to bring a unique approach to this classic snack. Saturday night pizza and movie night became a testing ground. Students, teachers and staff at my school became willing taste-testers. And Sweetzer Gourmet Popcorn became a delicious business.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Professionally, I’m a 5th grade teacher at West Hollywood Elementary School, where I’ve taught for 19 years. Since February, I’m also the owner of Sweetzer Gourmet Popcorn. In the classroom, I think I’ve excelled because of the opportunities and experiences I create outside of learning the core curriculum.

By tapping into students’ interests and designing projects that allow for collaboration and creativity, my students create memories and gain skills that last long after their year in fifth grade. What I’m most proud of as a teacher is helping kids reach beyond the limits of their perceived limitations, both academically and personally. Just this week, one of my fifth grade girls, a kid who was deathly afraid of giving a speech in front of the class at the beginning of the year, stood in front of a packed auditorium and did a solo in a group performance of a song she wrote. She’ll take that courage and growth with her forever, as will I because I know I helped her get there.

Starting a business while having a full time job has presented a number of challenges, the biggest of which is perhaps time. I’m very lucky in that for 19 years, living less than two miles from where I teach and having summers off, I’ve had lots of time for family, friends, and pursuing interests. This included coaching my son’s baseball and soccer teams and being his caddy in junior golf tournaments. Because I’ve been so fortunate over the years, I willingly accept that my time for family and personal interests is limited now, which is a small price to pay for trying to build a business.

One of the lessons that’s been reinforced along this journey, which mirrors what I preach all the time in class, is not to be deterred by failure or by others who don’t share your vision. I’ve encountered plenty of both thus far, but I believe in myself and in my product so I’m going to keep trying to move forward one step and one day at a time. Another thing I’ve learned is that you don’t have to have any prior training, experience, or background knowledge at something to excel at it. You simply have to be passionate and motivated to work hard and learn.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
If money were to be taken out of the equation, then my itinerary would be a reflection of everything I love about living in Los Angeles, which would include day trips out of L.A. to places I enjoy. I’m not much of a foodie, with what I love about Los Angeles being activity related. In no particular order, my week with my best friend would include:

– A bike ride along the Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Monica to Malibu
– Riding roller coasters at Six Flags Magic Mountain
– Rock climbing and hiking at Joshua Tree
– A ferry to Catalina for a zip line tour and snorkeling
– 18 holes of golf at Torrey Pines South
– An evening of magic at The Magic Castle
– Dinner at Mastro’s Steakhouse
– Visiting the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures
– Seeing a movie at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I’d like to give two shout-outs. The first is to the Antonucci family, Ethan, Aimee, and Cortland. My company does not exist without them, as they are the pizza and movie night friends that were there when this whole idea got started.

Knowing they would be coming over every week inspired me to experiment and learn, and their overwhelming response and support made me believe that my new popcorn hobby could become a successful business.

The second shoutout is to Scott Berger, the General Manager of L’Ermitage Beverly Hills, and Frederic Zemmour, the Hotel Manager. They have supported me since my second week in business when Scott first tasted my popcorn at the Melrose Place Farmers’ Market. Since then, I have provided the hotel with popcorn for the Super Bowl, corporate events, and as a snack in their bar and each room’s minibar. I think it’s incredible that a 5-Star hotel is investing in the success of my brand new local business.

Website: https://sweetzergourmet.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sweetzergourmet/

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutLA is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.