Providence Kettle Corn: The successes & struggles of launching a small start-up
What does this gourmet label actually mean. Well we scratched our heads a bit and came up with 7 reasons:
1) Small Batches (Each batch is hand crafted in tiny batches by a kettle corn cuisiner)
2) We use french words in our cooks titles
3) We only pop organic corn (No GMO’s!) (at 2x the cost to us!)
4) We use butterfly style kernels. (most use what is called rounded mushroom style though our butterfly is more delicate it also has a much better taste)
5) Flavors (we have an assortment of delectable artisan flavors (with more to come!))
6) We only use corn oil! (more expensive than other oils but better taste)
7) Local ingredients! We work with local farms for our flavors. Think Global Act Local!
So the first week of making popcorn is over! I can happily say it was exhausting. The work was hard and the hours long. Though nothing was more satisfying than trading a bag of popcorn for some fresh veggies at the farmers market or giving a fresh bag to a young child.
I had a great time at Bryant’s 4th of July festivities. We popped 75 lb. of popcorn (aka Harris made popcorn at warp speed for 3 hours!).
I am excited to report a few things. I am looking for help for an event on the 5th at Bryant. I just hired a girl from Brown named Rali. Just through a post up on facebook. Look at how viral my job listing is going! (I didn’t even ask her to post anything)
1) We had a stressful small pop last week in newport.
EVENTS THIS WEEK:
2) Thursday July 5th Fireworks & Live Music @ Bryant University
3) Friday July 6th I will be in downtown Providence at the Farmers Market at Kennedy
4) Sunday July 8th I will be in Pawtucket at some Farmers Market I have never been to.
I have recently been reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It is a very quick read, with a lighthearted and enchanting feel to it. Underneath this innocent story of a shepherd following his dream, there is much deeper theme about this inner organism which is this world. The book speaks about “the soul of the world” and that “everything is an omen”. Since reading it I have become more observant, and have begun to see more and more messages from the book manifest themselves in the world around me. I want to share with you a personal account I wrote right when I got home:
Today on my way home from the Farmers Market I saw a man standing on the sidewalk selling jewelry from a small cart. It was high noon and the temperature was upwards of 90 degrees. His face was worn from sun and wind. His long white hair was pulled back into a ponytail. From his neck hung many necklaces, clearly visible as he had undone the top 4 buttons of his shirt. Many times I had walked passed him, never braving more than a fleeting glance at his wears. Yet now I make a practice of greeting everyone I meet with a smile. I slowed my gait and thought to myself (if I’m going to be selling on the street with these guys, I might as well get to know them). I looked him in the eye and asked in a jovial tone “hey, how’s it going?” He responded in a soft calming voice with a traceable Spanish accent, “very well my friend, and how about you?” He saw my backpack and inquired if I was coming from class. We started chatting and I was fascinated by him.
He first inquired about my shirt which had Japanese writing on it. He began speaking to me in Japanese and I was regretful to tell him that I only spoke one language. We talked about my kettle corn business. He gave me advice. Yet not advice about pricing, promotion, logistics, licenses, ect the things I learn in school. He taught me about the power of observation. “Look” he said, “you need to be smart, many men go to school but they are not smart. They walk by me, they look at me, and they think they know me. But they don’t know my country, they can’t make my art, they can’t speak my languages, or play my music.” He gestured with his hand to his guitar; it sat snuggly in a case behind his cart. “For you to be successful you need to be smart.” He took his hand and grabbed my bicep. “You need to use your eyes, your ears, be smart, and follow the people.” I wanted to say “you mean listen to the soul of the world” yet I was too afraid, thinking he might think I’m crazy. Yet that’s what he was telling me. You must have a high situational awareness (for lack of more romantic phrasing) you must be able to be able to listen, to feel, to be present in the moment and react to it. It felt like this man had been dropped right out of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist.
We talked for an hour in the hot sun. We spoke of many things. Jose was from Spain, where he met his current wife (of 30 years) an American born women who now works as a physiologist in Boston (she stopped by on her way home from work). He told me about his son who now lives in California with his girlfriend from Burma (Myanmar). He spoke of his travels through Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan. Speaking at length about the beauty of the women he had seen in Kazakhstan. Influenced with Russia in the north, the Middle East to the west, Mongolia and China to the east. I realized very quickly that I had just befriended a very wise man. I spent most of my conversation listening. Listening to a man that understood the soul of the world. A true alchemist.
Reblogged from correlating :
I am leaving this afternoon for Newport RI for the first ever Newport Startup Session.
Newport Startup Session is your opportunity to enter the local startup community by working alongside founders from exciting new ventures in the higher education sector. Spend nine days working on projects that will give you an accelerated experience of what working at a startup is like. You’ll be joined by students from other Rhode Island colleges and universities with diverse educational backgrounds and skill sets who share a common interest in innovation in higher education.
I’m really excited about the program. You can follow along via my twitter @harrisroberts or the program @bridge_ri using the hashtag #startupcampus. I will post an update and photos at the conclusion of the program. Keep checking my blog this week. I have a few posts lined up, depending on how busy I am.
For more info Here is an official press release: http://www.salve.edu/newsEvents/newsDetails.aspx?Channel=/Channels/Site%20Wide%20Content&WorkflowItemID=975083a5-8e6e-4196-8b95-2e5623513d15
After sending out a few emails about the blog…I realized I never really explained the concept. QUICK TIP: Which seems simple but when you are in the thick of things you forget what it is like to be on the outside.
Providence Gourmet Kettle Corn sells delicious kettle corn that is fresh popped in small batches. Using only organic butterfly popcorn (no GMO’s) we offer a range of great tasting flavors.
1) We plan to sell it from a stand at Farmers Markets, Festivals, Car Shows.
2) Extra popcorn will be bagged and sold via a mobile bike cart in the afternoon and evening in providence.
Daily Log 6/20/12
Most of my day was spent running around looking for an air conditioner. But I did get this blog up to date (finally). I also made a bunch of phone calls and emails about upcoming events, building this trailer, ect.
All licensing complete!
I am happy to say I have obtained my peddlers license for providence RI. Soon I will be on the streets selling kettle corn. (Tentative date July 1st) After five departments from local, state, to federal the city of providence has granted me my license!
Daily Log 6/19/12
Today was a mildly uneventful day. Providence is preparing for high 90’s for the next few days and the city is bracing for impact. I met a girl named Debbie today outside some of the state offices. She is just 6 years old but was selling lemonade with her mother. I talked with her for awhile. I got a glass of lemonade and we shook hands.
As I walked away I began to ponder. Why was she out there? At 6 she had a vague concept of money. But she didn’t want to take my money. Her priority was giving me a cold glass of lemonade. As I walked away I thought to myself. She started a lemonade stand because it’s fun. Such a simple concept but she wasn’t doing it for the money, experience, or resume building. She was so happy to be able to help other people. I think I will leave you with the same question I asked myself. What is your lemonade stand? But more importantly, why have you chosen your lemonade stand?
Bike Trailer Secured!
Oh the sketchy places Craigslist has taken me… Now it’s time to retrofit it into a kettle corn carrying mobile!
Daily Log 6/18/12
Today I got my last certification from the fire department. I drove over at 2:00 pm for my 3:00 pm appointment with the fire marshal. I got there and ran into serious parking problems. I couldn’t park on the street, so I pulled into the municipal parking garage. I had to drive to the roof (7 stories up) to find an open space. I wasn’t sure if I was going to set up my kettle on the roof of a parking garage! So I ran down seven flights of stairs and then across the street and up three more flights to the fire department offices. There I met Ray (the fire marshal) who told me that I had to park on the street in the no parking area. Which a police officer had just told me I couldn’t park in.
I rushed to the exit of the parking garage, where I was met by a large, old, Italian man. I had only parked for 5 min but I still had to pay 3$. I frantically rummaged around in my car. I looked through all my pockets and all around the floor hoping to find a few coins. I could only find 35 cents. I could see the inspector looking at a sausage cart. I needed to get out there. I looked into my center console and saw a small gift bottle of Maine maple syrup in a maple leaf shape. I looked at the guy. Then back at the maple syrup and said. “Hey man, I have 35 cents and this bottle of maple syrup.” He looked at me for a second, paused, and slowly reached out his hand and said, “Give me that maple syrup.” I handed it over and thanked him as he raised the gate and I pulled away.
QUICK TIP: Lesson learned. Always have cash or maple syrup.
I got inspected and popped some popcorn. Set up, take down, plus 2 batches of popcorn and a lot of talking took only 45 min. Shout out to Lazyman Lobster! They are also from Maine and selling lobster rolls this summer in RI. I gave them a bag of popcorn and then gave the rest to people who had helped me out. It really brought smiles to people’s faces.
The key is secretaries; they like a gate agent at an airport they should be treated as a representative of god:
General Rules of Engagement:
The key here is being authentic. People can see through it when you are trying to schmooze them. You are looking to build real relationships with people. Go the extra mile. A week later I went back to all the offices that had helped me and brought them a few bags of kettle corn. I had already gotten everything I needed from their office. But a good will gesture like this goes a long way. They knew this and were so happy to see me again.
Daily Log 6/14/12
Today I woke up a bit later and went to Kinkos around the block to print passport photos for my city peddlers license. I found a website online that would format the photos for free (10$ saved from CVS). Then I headed down into the city. My Bryant ID is good for the bus system here. It is really convenient to be able to swipe up and down from college hill. I went to city hall to submit my application (I am getting really good at filling out applications). It will be passed next Wednesday by the board. They said that my temporary license from the health department was not good enough. Also my tax number wasn’t in yet I but they would accept my receipt that said I had sent it in. I didn’t have it with my though luckily I had taken a photo on my phone and I could email it to them.
QUICK TIP: take photos of everything important. Your camera is good enough to make text readable. They also said that the next day I could call the fire department to set up a time. So I trudged back up the hill to the food safety where they issued me a real license and faxed it to city hall. Other than the fire department I have everything I need. Except to do farmers markets you need $500,000 of general insurance. But who needs that? (yea I’m going to need to figure that out).
QUICK TIP: if you are ever dying for cold water Dunkin Donuts sells these large cups for 25cents
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