Kettle corn sweetens up Elm City, Yale

Every weekday from noon to 5 p.m. for the past six years, “except for when it rains,” Newton Carroll has sold bags of kettle corn on the sidewalk directly in front of Yale-New Haven Hospital. Carroll works alone from a small cart, popping his crunchy snack outside 20 York St., a spot frequented by hospital employees and commuters.

Carroll’s company, Elm City Kettle Corn, is the only business with permission to sell on the sidewalk directly in front of Yale-New Haven Hospital. The one-man operation also supplies Yale’s Thain Family Cafe in Bass Library and Uncommon market with organic kettle corn, a relationship both parties said will continue indefinitely. Now, though Carroll said he is pleased with Elm City Kettle Corn’s business, he has tentative plans to expand in the future, including getting another cart and, in the longer term, franchising the company.

Newton Carroll has been making and selling his simple, yet special, kettle corn from a cart located outside of Yale-New Haven Hospital for the past six years.
Newton Carroll has been making and selling his simple, yet special, kettle corn from a cart located outside of Yale-New Haven Hospital for the past six years.

But Carroll said that while making a profit is nice, what he really enjoys is meeting and talking to people who congregate at the wall behind his cart to eat his popcorn, just chat or both.

“I’ve met all the head people in the hospital,” Carroll said. “They all come down to my wall, and we all come down and talk.”

On one Friday earlier this month, a woman drove up to the cart and asked for a $5 bag of kettle corn, which Carroll brought to her car window.

“You know I’m hooked,” she said, before driving away. “If I can’t come here to get it, I get my daughter to come for me. I don’t even get popcorn from the store.”

A KERNEL OF AN IDEA

After retiring six years ago, Carroll, 58, a former pharmacy technician, founded Elm City Kettle Corn because he needed a new way to occupy his time, he said. He said he got the idea for the business just by doing research and thinking about it, though his wife, Patricia, said he also received some encouragement from her.

“He had retired and was just bored sitting around the house all day,” Patricia Carroll said. “At his previous job, he popped popcorn and brought it into the office and everyone loved it, so I said he should start his own business.”

When Newton Carroll found an advertisement online for popcorn cart equipment at a reasonable price, he said he jumped at the chance.

“A gentleman was selling the whole kit and caboodle, so I got a hitch put on my car and drove to Claxton, Ala., to pick it up,” he said.

Carroll got vending and health permits from the city to be able to sell on the street, and his wife built him a trailer with wheels to hold and move the equipment. The business took off quickly from there, Carroll said.

Since then, Patricia Carroll, 55, said, she has not been very involved with her husband’s work, though she said she is more than happy to lend an extra hand during large events.

“I let that be a full-time job for him, and I have my job,” said the former engineer and current manager at the aeronautics company Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation.

Every morning Newton Carroll attaches the trailer, which is filled with containers of popcorn, oil and sugar, to his truck and drives to the hospital from his home in West Haven. Carroll said his kettle corn recipe is simple: popcorn, vegetable oil, Domino sugar and Morton salt. Carroll pops the kernels in oil inside of a large metal kettle fueled by propane and, after stirring in the other ingredients, transfers the steaming kettle corn to a smaller bin where it is ready to be bagged.

Each day between March and November, he sells more than 100 bags — about 70 small bags and 30 large bags, he said. But in January and February, he sells about 25, he said. A large bag costs $5.00 and a small $3.00.

“One of my lines, when people say they’re fat and can’t buy popcorn, is, ‘All the calories have been popped away,’ ” Carroll said.

A POPULAR PRODUCT

Yale is the only customer Carroll supplies in bulk. Every week he personally delivers a couple of hundred bags of organic kettle corn to the Thain Family Cafe, which he has been doing since 2006, and to Uncommon, which opened this past fall.

Gerry Remer, assistant manager of sustainability and supply management for Yale Dining, said Carroll’s relationship with Yale dates back to when the private management company Aramark managed Yale Dining Services. When that contract ended in 2007, Yale Dining became self-manageed, and it has been attempting to work with local businesses as part of its Sustainable Food Project, Remer said.

“Very often, we try to work with local vendors when we can and there’s a product that fits,” she said.

Since he began supplying to Yale, Carroll’s output has increased, but he said the only major difference between what he sells to Yale and what he sells on the street is that Yale’s kettle corn is made with organic popcorn, though the bags he sells to Yale are also much smaller than the ones he sells individually.

Lauren Croda ’13, a student worker at the Thain Family Cafe, said student customers regularly buy the kettle corn, and that she sells a few bags every day.

“It sells pretty well. No more or less than other items,” she said.

Faten Sayed ’13 said she bought a bag of kettle corn from the Thain Family Cafe for the first time recently after she heard about it from a friend.

“I personally like my kettle corn really sweet and this wasn’t as sweet,” she said. But she said she would still definitely buy the product again.

Carroll also sells his kettle corn at community events, such as the New Haven Cherry Blossom Festival and the AIDS Walk in the spring, and he said he is booked from April to late October. His popcorn is so popular at these events, he said, that he has to recruit help from his stepson, his wife and a friend, like he did when selling at a concert in Hamden, Conn., last summer.

“Our line was so long the other vendors complained because we were blocking their view,” he said.

Carroll said he is satisfied with the level of his business currently, but he said he has plans to expand in the future: He currently has two carts and is working on setting up a third, and he said he is talking with a company in Boston about franchising Elm City Kettle Corn sometime in the near future.

“They tell me it would be good to franchise because the investment is low and the return is high,” he said, though he added that he has not pursued this expansion yet because he has been busy.

Though Carroll has thought about his company’s future without him, he said he plans to continue running it for as long as he can.

“I’m going to be 59 years old this year, so I guess I’m good for another 10 years.”

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