For some entrepreneurs, the perfect business idea simply pops to mind.
That’s what happened to Matt Bercovitz ’06, who confesses that he had no idea where his career was headed after graduating from the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences with bachelor’s degrees in psychology and political science. He dabbled in consulting gigs and self-employment ventures but couldn’t seem to find anything that excited him.
Then came a kernel of inspiration.
“I thought about what’s interesting to me and my life,” Bercovitz says, “and it’s popcorn.”
Corn-based Culinary Creations
Born with a sweet tooth, the USC entrepreneur considered himself a lifelong devout connoisseur of the popular snack food.
Bercovitz rented graveyard-shift hours at a shared commercial kitchen in his hometown of Chicago and devoted a year to creating recipes for high-quality premium popcorn.
He fine-tuned temperature settings for perfect air-popped kernels and put his own spin on tried-and-true flavors like white cheddar and caramel. He also threw his creativity behind ambitious productions like white truffle butter popcorn. Then there’s his special recipe he calls Billion Dollar Popcorn—a caramel corn made with Madagascar bourbon vanilla and Danish salt and dusted with edible 23-karat gold flakes.
When his recipes earned rave reviews from family and friends, he asked strangers to taste-test his culinary creations. Bercovitz himself shies away from picking a preferred flavor. “I could never single out just one.”
Jumping into a crowded snack and gourmet food industry was daunting, but Bercovitz gave himself pep talks inspired from his days as a student manager for the USC football team. He credits a favorite mantra to former head coach Pete Carroll: “We’re going to do it better than it’s ever been done before.”
For Matt Bercovitz, Popcorn Became a Big Part of Life
In 2013, Bercovitz opened the flagship Berco’s Popcorn retail store in Chicago’s trendy Lincoln Park neighborhood. From parents toting wide-eyed children to couples on first dates, customers lined up for his sweet and savory treats. He hosted in-store movie nights, celebrating that all-American pairing of film and popcorn. Bulk orders for weddings, baby showers, hotels and corporate clients followed.
Berco’s Popcorn was becoming a part of people’s lives, which was my dream in opening the business.Matt Bercovitz
“Berco’s Popcorn was becoming a part of people’s lives, which was my dream in opening the business,” he says.
In 2016, Bercovitz received an unexpected call from a GQ-produced YouTube show called Most Expensivest Sh*t, hosted by rapper 2 Chainz. The next day, Bercovitz was in Los Angeles taping a segment with the eccentric entertainer and pro skateboarder Nyjah Huston.
Talking to an audience far beyond his Chicago storefront, the USC entrepreneur introduced his Billion Dollar Popcorn — dubbed the “world’s most expensive popcorn” at $5 a kernel. After the five-minute segment aired in August 2016, sales took off.
“The show put Berco’s on the map, but I put the work in to be ready for that golden opportunity,” Bercovitz says.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic forced his retail store to close temporarily, Bercovitz continued filling online orders as people sought a comforting and cheery pick-me-up amid stay-at-home life. “We’re delivering a positive shared experience through a premium popcorn,” he says. “That’s a pretty nice thing to be giving the world today.”