A Poppin Good Business for a Special Entrepreneur!

good special needs business

Business: Poppin Joe’s Kettle Korn

Motto:  “Have a ‘Poppin’ great day!”

What is Poppin Joe’s Kettle Korn?

Poppin Joe's Poppin Joe’s Kettle Korn was established to show that I, Joe Steffy, a young man with autism and down syndrome, am able to work. The kettle korn business gives me an opportunity to do a variety of tasks I can chose between while at work each day.

We sell fresh popped kettle korn at festivals, and in local retail outlets. Poppin Joe’s also does private events and fundraisers for our local community.

Why was starting your own business the answer? 

My parents believed that I could work after graduating from high school, so they helped me create my own business which utilizes my strengths. I do things just as I am shown so the repetition needed in Kettle Korn production was a good fit.

Kettle Korn gives me the opportunity to move between many tasks which allows options for my short attention span throughout the work day. I am strong so setting up equipment lets me use my muscles and show my strength. I like to stay busy, so constantly doing something is important. A kettle korn business has tasks that can be done even when we are not in production. I also like to be part of my local community, so delivering products, purchasing supplies, and taking funds to the bank keeps me visible and active in my community.

Does Poppin Joe’s employ other individuals with disabilities? 

Poppin Joe’s has over a dozen employees who help in the business. We have hired employees who have disabilities. They typically are part-time employees who come on board when the season is in full swing.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?

What are 3 rewards you’ve experienced from starting your own business?

  • Productivity – My parents believed in me when the school system did not. Owning my own business has shown that I CAN work and be successful.
  • Confidence – I own my own business! My teachers never dreamed I could do this. I hire and fire employees, and I get to deposit my profits in the bank. I walk with confidence and a smile on my face when people greet me as Poppin Joe.
  • Respect – I have earned the respect of my community and have been an inspiration to my peers when I share my journey to owning my own business.

Will you share a special moment about your success?

I was invited last May to present at the Congressional Small Business Committee Hearing in Washington DC as an individual with autism who owns his own business. I was part of history as the first person to present in a congressional hearing using an augmentative device. It was an incredible honor and something my family and I will always remember.

What’s happening next for Poppin Joe’s?

We are adding new retail outlets in the Kansas City area, which will provide year round opportunities to enjoy Poppin Joe’s Kettle Korn. We continue to have a second location in the Golden Isles of Georgia.

What message would you like to give others?

Think about what skills and strengths you have and consider what type of work will allow those skills to be used the best. Is there a job or a business that uses those skills?  Could you be a part of that type of business – or own your own?  There are resources and grants out there to help you own your start your own business.

Editor’s note: You can find great training to become an entrepreneur through Celebrate EDU or Picasso Einstein.

How to find out more about Poppin Joe’s:

Read more about entrepreneurship and businesses for autism employment!

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About Jodi Murphy

I am the founder of Geek Club Books, autism storytelling through mobile apps for awareness, acceptance and understanding. My mission is to use the art of storytelling and technology to entertain and educate for the social good. I am a 'positive' autism advocate, mother of an awesome adult on the autism spectrum, lifestyle journalist, and marketing specialist.


  1. Congrats Joe, it’s been great working with you all these years and watching your business grow! (I think you might be the first person to say the word “special” doesn’t apply. You are you and like many of us, we want to accomplish great things…not so special, just a human being).
    Griffin-Hammis Associates

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