Casey’s Kettle Corn is popping up across the nation, from Washington to Florida and California to Maine.
The decade-old mom and pop business started by Carolyn and Casey Dennis in their Sequim home faced a recent government ultimatum — closure or expansion. It was an easy decision to expand the business with a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen and warehouse just off Hooker Road.
For nearly 10 years the couple had made their own kettle corn to sell at fairs and festivals and did well, popping the corn and flavoring it themselves from their home commercial kitchen.
“It was a home-based commercial kitchen but Homeland Security and the FDA began forcing food manufacturers to much higher standards. We could either build a factory or go out of business,” said Casey Dennis, the Casey in Casey’s Kettle Corn.
With an infusion of considerable cash in 2012, the couple remodeled a building at 160 Harrison Road and with new equipment, still manufacture the lightly salty and lightly sweet treat in a handmade manner.
“It’s been very popular the past 10-12 years at festivals,” Dennis said. “The first place we started with was Swain’s in Port Angeles because there really wasn’t high quality carmel corn for sale from other manufacturers.
“Kettle corn is a very persnickety product to make and very labor intensive. It flew off the shelves and that’s how we got started a year ago.”
Casey’s Kettle Corn is a wholesaler and it’s available locally at Swain’s, the Co-op Farm & Garden Center in Sequim and Quimper Mercantile in Port Townsend.
“One of our biggest stores in the nation is Forks Outfitters in Forks — they sell huge numbers of kettle corn and we wish we could clone them,” said Linda Alger, general manager.
The process starts with buying non-GMO Midwestern-grown hybrid popcorn seed, selected for its large kernels, and popping it in two stainless steel kettles with Casey’s proprietary blend of carmel — which took him four years to get just right — and cocoanut oil, a heart healthy oil with zero transfats. The business has a staff of five part-time cookers who pop the corn, pour it into a large bin and then into a bagging, sealing and date coding machine. The popcorn is produced and shipped fresh-to-order.
The 5-ounce/5 serving bags are then boxed and sent out to some 300 customers — a whopping increase over the dozen resellers it had just a year ago. Dennis estimates sales in the past year to be 50,000 bags but he’s expecting within a year to soar to 500,000 bags. That’s because Ace Hardware has given the green light to the company to approach all of its 4,700 franchises. Alger estimates they’re adding three new retailers every day.
“Our goal is we want to be at 1,000 stores by this time next year and I think it’s quite attainable,” Dennis said. “We send the product to prospective stores and the product sells itself.”
Another side of the business is supplying at wholesale cost kettle corn for fundraisers.
“It’s a great direction to go in because they can typically double their money,” Dennis said.
Alger added, “We love working with fundraisers and kettle corn is a great fundraising tool because they can buy it a case at a time and it’s a great money maker.”
Casey’s Kettle Corn is 100 percent natural with no gluten or soy, artificial preservatives, colors or flavors and two cups has about 130 calories with 5 grams of fat and zero transfats.
“Sequim has been our home since 1988,” Dennis said.
“We love Sequim and want to thank the community for standing behind us and being our first customers.
We’re very proud of the product we put out and we’re looking forward to a bright future.”
To see Casey’s Kettle Corn being made, go to www.caseyskettlecorn.com.