Darn good popcorn
A conversation with Bjorn Quenemoen, founder of BjornQorn
CHRISTY OLSEN FIELD
Taste of Norway Editor
The Norwegian American
I am a huge fan of BjornQorn (and not just because I have a son named Bjorn and it’s such a thrill to see his name on packaging). It’s because BjornQorn sells truly delicious popcorn.
I’m not the only one who thinks so: It’s a cult favorite among foodies across the United States, with Bon Appetit calling it the “the only packaged popcorn worth eating.”
BjornQorn’s popcorn is made from GMO-free corn, and seasoned with nutritional yeast, the salty-savory sprinkle beloved by vegans, and it’s especially good on popcorn. BjornQorn products are made in an allergen-free facility and verified by Snack Safely. Their popcorn is popped with solar energy in the Hudson Valley in New York.
It’s a snack you can feel really good about!
I had to learn more about BjornQorn, so I reached out to co-founder Bjorn Quenemoen to learn more about his Norwegian roots and approach to popcorn.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Christy Olsen Field: Can you tell me a bit about your background and how you ended up in the Hudson Valley? What is your connection to Norway?
Bjorn Quenemoen: Even in a heavily Scandinavian area like rural Minnesota, I had most people beat. I have the name, but I can also boast that all 16 of my great-great-grandparents came from Norway in the late 19th century. There’s hardly a region of Norway that my family didn’t originate from, as far north as Tromsø and south to Stavanger, all over the Sognefjord and east to Elverum where the Quenemoens, or Kvernmoens, were from. We are avid lefse, lutefisk, and potato klubb lovers. I have only been to Norway once, but I loved it. It’s such a beautiful place and everyone is so nice.
Getting to New York took a couple steps. That part of the country never crossed my mind growing up. I spent my last year of high school at the Minnesota Arts High School in Golden Valley, a suburb of Minneapolis. I had a teacher there who encouraged me to look at Bard College in New York, thinking I was their type of student. He was right. I had a great four years there and met the most important people of my life there, too. Afterward, I spent many years living in Brooklyn but moved to the Hudson Valley to start my popcorn business and recently moved here full time.
COF: What sparked your interest in popcorn? How did you decide to start it as a business?
BQ: I started BjornQorn as a quirky pop-up event at Bard College back in 2002. Every Thursday at 10 p.m., my apartment would be open to the campus as a popcorn bar/cafe setup in kind of an island-y party environment. It was very fun and it was then that I realized I could turn it into a real business if I wanted to. The enthusiasm for my popcorn recipe was very clear.
But why popcorn at all has more to do with my upbringing. I grew up on a grain farm and stovetop popcorn was our regular Sunday night meal. When I got to the East Coast, I realized that this wasn’t normal, so I had to carry the torch. My friends just started calling it BjornCorn, which eventually turned into BjornQorn.
COF: Where do you source your corn?
BQ: The corn is grown partially on my family farm in Minnesota. We played around with small acreages before my father retired from farming, and it worked great. Now we use the same land but hire our neighbor to do the field work, and my father manages the harvest in his retirement. Last year we harvested 30 acres! We also use some partner farms around the Hudson Valley, namely Hudson Valley Farm Hub and Kelder’s Farm.
COF: Who is the team behind BjornQorn?
BQ: We have a pretty small team. There’s me and Jamie, old college friends who started the business and kind of do a little of everything. My wife, Stephanie, is our director of sales, marketing, PR, everything else. Then there’s Ted, Heron, and Bryan, who run production. We also have one part-time delivery driver. We are growing a lot this year and are looking for more team members!
COF: Can you tell me about your approach to renewable energy with solar power? Do you have other elements to sustainability that you use?
BQ: This is what my business partner Jamie brought to the project. Originally we were using large solar collectors to pop our popcorn. It was a way to do solar research and drum up some attention as we attempted to make our way into the competitive snack market. Once we outgrew that setup, we built a solar electric factory powered by solar panels. It’s less of a spectacle but it’s still very important to us to make energy sustainability a front and center component of what we do. By telling the story of energy sustainability in our name and right on our packaging we can encourage other companies and even our own customers to think about it for themselves every time they grab a bag.
Making our packaging sustainable is a long-term goal for us. The technology is not there yet for shelf-stable foods, but we are starting to collect our own waste and incorporate services like TerraCycle to help us recycle more of our waste stream.
COF: Where can our readers buy your products?
BQ: Our Classic BjornQorn is available in northeast region Whole Foods Markets (New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut), and they’re about to add Spicy as well as potentially other Whole Foods regions. You can use the store locator on our website, bjornqorn.com. It might not be complete, but it’s probably the best resource for finding it in-store.
If you can’t find it in a store near you, just buy it on our website! We sell a 15-pack mix of our small bags, so you can try all the flavors. And it ships free!
COF: Anything else you want our readers to know about BjornQorn?
BQ: We put out a holiday popcorn tin every year, so keep your eye out for it. It’s like the classic tri-flavor popcorn tin but is filled with our small batch flavors instead. The past few years we’ve been including a special maple kettle corn. It’s both delicious and a great gift.
To learn more about BjornQorn and order, visit their website at bjornqorn.com, or follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @bjornqorn.
This article originally appeared in the July 9, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.