Patrick Avila graduated with a marketing major from the Calvin University School of Business in 2017. He and his wife Paige Veld Avila are the owners of Popnotch Goods, a gourmet popcorn and snack company located in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

What areas of your life were most impacted while a student at Calvin?

One of the biggest challenges I faced at Calvin was time management. You could say I am a more social person than an academic person, and it was hard for me to say no to things. It was also the first time I was truly on my own.

There were a lot of opportunities to get involved: I played on the baseball team, worked an on-campus job all four years, played bass guitar in the Friday and Sunday worship band, and I loved hanging out with friends. But all these great opportunities also made it difficult to focus and thrive academically. As the years went on, I learned how to dedicate time to specific subjects and got a bit better at saying no—a valuable lesson.

My faith also became my own at Calvin. I began to trust God’s plan for me, even though, honestly, I had no idea what that was. But I knew if I worked hard, stayed faithful, and made good and wise decisions, God would guide me. I still believe that and try to continue to live by this kind of faith.

Where has your path taken you since Calvin?

During Covid, I was furloughed from my job. While working another job just to stay busy, my entrepreneurial spirit came to life. If you had asked me 10 years ago if I wanted to start a business, I would have said yes, but without any real ideas or concepts that inspired me. My father-in-law was the one who suggested the popcorn business. In 2022, my wife Paige and I started Popnotch Goods located on Wealthy Street in Grand Rapids. Customers can come in, shop, watch the popping process, and enjoy ice cream and other gourmet snacks.

Your inroad into the popcorn business is unique. Can you share that story?

The owner of Cranky Mike’s popcorn, Chris Doud, is a family friend. She’s been popping popcorn for more than 20 years in Illinois, so I visited her for a few days to shadow her. I learned everything I could, helping her make, bag, and sell popcorn. And I asked a ton of questions—all the nitty gritty details. After seeing the process, I had full faith I could learn to make a great product and develop a cool brand. And Chris was really gracious. She shared a lot of information with me and told me, “You just take this and run with it, and do what you want.”

What made you decide to open a brick-and-mortar store in an age of online shopping?

Popcorn can be made anywhere, plus you can pack and take it anywhere, so Popnotch offers online sales, and we go to farmers markets in the summer. But Paige and I really wanted a spot where we could craft our product and welcome customers, a place that shined in the Grand Rapids area and that had a lot of foot traffic. We knew Wealthy Street was the best location—there are a lot of unique brands and niche businesses there.

Do you have a signature flavor customers keep returning for?

Our best seller is our dill pickle popcorn: salt, vinegar, and a hint of dill. Everybody seems to love that flavor. I think our fruit flavors are the most unique. We use real fruit ingredients in our popcorn, which delivers an authentic flavor.

What advice would you give a future entrepreneur thinking about starting a retail business?

Whatever industry it may be, ask people who are already doing it if you can shadow them. I think a lot of people don’t think to ask that question. If you’re willing to work for free for a little bit, business owners are more than willing to come alongside you and show you their trade. I think it goes a long way to do your research by showing interest in someone else’s business and to gauge if it’s something you could and want to do yourself.