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Closings and Delays

'The Popcorn Guy' gains fame on TikTok

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We go to the movies to see the stars, the stunts and the special effects on the big screen. But at a Cinemark theater in Corpus Christi, Texas, there's a TikTok sensation putting on a show before you even take your seat. And you can find him at the concessions counter, serving up the buttered popcorn with his own special flair. Jason Grosboll handles a popcorn bucket with a showman's touch and an artisan's care, making sure there's buttery goodness throughout. Our producer Mia Estrada lives in Corpus Christi, so she had the chance to see Grosboll, aka the Popcorn Guy, in action for herself.

MIA ESTRADA, BYLINE: At Century 16, Jason Grosboll is getting the popcorn machine ready to serve buttery, crispy popcorn.

(SOUNDBITE OF POPCORN POPPING)

JASON GROSBOLL: This is a very soothing sound. I like listening to it. It's just sort of relaxing.

ESTRADA: Grosboll has been working at this movie theater for over 10 years. He started working to help his grandma and family pay the bills. Before that, he and his grandma would go to the theater together. It's always been a special place for him.

GROSBOLL: My grandma would save a little bit of money. We'd go there just to hang out and enjoy ourselves. Little bit of popcorn, little bit of drinks, enjoy a couple shows.

ESTRADA: Five years ago, he started working on his popcorn-making skills. He wanted people to really be wowed by the popcorn.

GROSBOLL: Occasionally, I would see other employees doing, like, maybe one to two layers, and I noticed a lot of customers just looking down at them like, I want extra butter. I want more butter.

ESTRADA: The key, he realized, was to layer the butter throughout, spinning the bucket to spread it evenly. He'd make it fun by spinning the popcorn bucket on his finger like a basketball.

GROSBOLL: At first, no one really understood it a little bit. But as time passed on, people started loving what I did, and I had a great time with it.

ESTRADA: All right, Jason. So if I wanted to order, like, a medium bucket of popcorn with extra butter, can you teach me how to make it?

GROSBOLL: So I got my bucket right here. Do a little flip.

ESTRADA: He performs what can only be called a spontaneous popcorn dance...

GROSBOLL: Do a little twist, a little more butter. Then I put a little popcorn.

ESTRADA: ...With twirls and creative flourishes...

GROSBOLL: Little more butter 'cause people love the butter.

ESTRADA: ...Till he gets it just right.

GROSBOLL: One more twist, a bit more butter and then one final scoop on top. There you go.

ESTRADA: Grosboll's popcorn dance went viral on TikTok. A video posted by a movie customer over the holidays racked up over 14 million views. And since then, Grosboll's been on Jimmy Kimmel, who's invited him to the Oscars to make popcorn.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE")

JIMMY KIMMEL: Jason Grosboll, the Popcorn Guy.

GROSBOLL: I am excited to go to the Oscars. I wouldn't mind doing a couple of tricks on the Oscars stage if they had me doing it. I'd be loving it.

ESTRADA: And now Grosboll has fans of its own making a pilgrimage to the theater, like Linda Gonzales.

LINDA GONZALES: Oh, yeah. We'll get that one. We'll get that size.

GROSBOLL: Large?

GONZALES: Yes, a large.

ESTRADA: She's taking a video of Grosboll to show her friends. She and her partner, Eric Perez, came here to see him.

GONZALES: We're like, Popcorn Guy, yeah, on TikTok. And I was like, he lives here. Let me come over here. TikTok...

ESTRADA: Gonzales even asked Grosboll if she can join him at the Oscars.

GONZALES: You have an extra ticket, you got to take me.

GROSBOLL: Sorry, but I promised that to my dad.

GONZALES: (Laughter) Well, we'll follow you.

ESTRADA: Gonzales and Perez say watching the Popcorn Guy is like the show before the show. They dig into their popcorn before heading into their movie.

GONZALES: Because, like, everybody else just puts it on top and, like, everything else is dry in the bottom. But this - like, it just keeps you happy 'cause you keep getting the butter taste. So yeah...

ERIC PEREZ: Butter taste, you have - it's real crunchy. It's real good. It's fresh.

ESTRADA: Grosboll says he has multiple fans coming every day now. They even ask for autographs on popcorn buckets.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Laughter) Thank you.

GROSBOLL: No problem, man. Take care.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: You too.

GROSBOLL: To me, I'll always be that guy just serving popcorn, man. I never really expected to be famous or any popular from it.

ESTRADA: It's clear that movie magic doesn't just happen on-screen but at the concession stand, too.

For NPR News, I'm Mia Estrada in Corpus Christi, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mia Estrada
Mia Estrada is a 2021-2022 Kroc Fellow. She will spend the year rotating through different parts of NPR, including the Culture Desk, National Desk and Weekend Edition.