In a way, David Rhoa ’90 and Tim Moffit ’80 looked back in time to peer into the future.
Rhoa was a student of Moffit’s during Moffit’s first year teaching in the Economics and Business Department at Kalamazoo College in 1989. Nearly 30 years later, the two find themselves together again—this time as business partners.
Moffit, who still teaches at the College and who owns several businesses including a medical supply firm, and Rhoa, who heads Lake Michigan Mailers, a document and packaging delivery company, were seeking to diversify their holdings when they caught a whiff of a business opportunity.
Kalamazoo Kettle Corn was created in 2003 by a husband-and-wife team who worked out of their garage, their kettle corn mostly making its way into gift baskets. When Rhoa and Moffit found out the couple wanted to sell and retire, they purchased the business in August 2017.
“We really bought it for the recipes,” says Moffit. “Our combined business acumen is going to allow us to scale the production and distribution of our products.”
It’s fairly common for K graduates to enter into partnerships together, they both say. A tight-knit alumni community, coupled with an intrinsic entrepreneurial spirit among K business graduates, means collaborations are often organic and long-lasting.
In fact, Moffit says he has business interests with several of his former students, and his accountant is a former student as well.
“K brings in a unique student profile,” says Moffit. “They are risk takers—people who think outside the box—and the legacy of this is tremendous entrepreneurs across the country who graduated from the College. We put leaders out into the world. The K education is the glue that holds us all together.”
Rhoa is an adjunct professor of management at K, and routinely asks his students what they want to do after graduating.
“They’ll tell me, ‘I want to open a business. I want to be my own boss. I want to create something,’ ” he says. “That says something about the quality of our students. There is a motivation in them to hit the ground running after they leave K.”
His students will get to have some real world experience this winter quarter with Kalamazoo Kettle Corn: Rhoa plans on asking them to come up with their own ideas on how to grow the company tenfold over the next five years.
“It’s connecting the real world with concepts we are dealing with in the classroom,” he says.
At the moment, Kalamazoo Kettle Corn is sold in about 15 retail locations locally and as far away as St. Louis. Online sales have seen its products shipped all over the nation, from New Mexico to Arkansas and Wyoming. The company’s kettle corn comes in 10 varieties, from the traditional flavor to the more extravagant Chocolate Nut Avalanche and Chocolate Peanut Butter Bliss.
“We want to be nationwide—popcorn without borders,” Moffit says. “We think people see value in a high-quality, handcrafted product.”
At the production facility in Kalamazoo Township, an office area is chock-full of empty cardboard boxes, ready to be filled with product, and a new popper, which Moffit says will double production capacity. In an adjacent production room, a worker fluffs freshly popped corn with a wide scooper and others bag up varieties recently coated with flavoring. The smell in the room—warm caramel mixed with savory cheddar cheese—is intoxicating.
“Stay here long enough and you’ll end up smelling like it,” Moffit says.
Why Kettle Corn?
Kettle corn is a popular snack in West Michigan. Why? It may have something to do with the region’s widespread Dutch heritage. Various historical accounts are said to record Dutch settlers in 18th century Pennsylvania making sweet-and-salty popcorn in their iron fireplace kettles—hence “kettle corn.”