By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
ADA — Micah Barnes has a sweet part-time job.
The Ohio Northern University junior from Pierpont has been running his own business called Indescribable Kettle Corn. Working out of a 16-foot-long white trailer, he turns out batches of the sweet and salty concoction for ONU home football games and soccer matches and local events like Ada’s Harvest & Herb Festival.
“This is how I’m making it through college,” said Barnes, 20.
“Originally it was just supposed to be a little summer job and now here I am continuing it at college,” he said.
Barnes was just 12 when his parents decided to start the business as a way to supplement their income.
“My family always wanted to do some kind of food stand. We just wanted to get something else, just another little thing to help get some more money coming in,” he said.
They considered different options and decided on kettle corn when they realized that no one else in the area was offering it.
“We always loved getting it at fairs so it was something we loved as well. So it wasn’t like we were just opening up another hot dog, french fry stand. It wasn’t like we were opening up another cotton candy stand or whatever,” he said.
Barnes mainly worked the business with his father, Randy, who is a health inspector for a county health department.
“He was a big part of it because he was the one that got everything going and whatnot and just knew business as well,” he said.
Randy Barnes had worked at several businesses owned by his own father.
“So he had a background, even though he wasn’t a business major. He went for environmental biology, but he still kind of had that background and knowledge so that helped a lot,” said Barnes. “And at that time I couldn’t even drive, so if I wanted to go somewhere my dad would have to drive me.”
The name of the business, he said, evolved out of the family’s religious beliefs.
“My family is Christian based so we just had that tie with thanking God for his indescribable gift,” he said.
The verse, “Thanks be to God for His Indescribable gift,” from 2 Corinthians 9:15, is actually painted on the side of the trailer.
“That’s where we got the name from was thanking God for his indescribable gift, so indescribable kettle corn,” he said.
Barnes’ business sells kettle corn, beef jerky and 20 flavors of popcorn. The popcorn, he said, is a great snack.
“Our stuff is non-GMO and we keep it healthy as possible,” he said.
It takes a certain type of corn to make good kettle corn, he noted.
“At movie theaters you’ll see what’s called butterfly popcorn versus the popcorn that most kettle corn uses that pops up into more of a ball. It’s called mushroom,” said Barnes. “So the mushroom-style popcorn actually has a larger surface area. And since it’s rounded it allows more for the sugar and the salt to get on there and to attach easier.”
Kettle corn is made with just four ingredients, said Barnes: sugar, salt, oil and popcorn.
“When we originally started, we did have one of the big stereotypical kettles, but we didn’t do what most people do and that’s stir it by hand with a wooden paddle,” he said.
For one, it’s hot, he explained. And stirring with a paddle tends to splash the hot oil around.
“So not only are you standing in front of a hundreds-degree flame, you’re wearing tons of protective clothing during the summer,” he said.
Instead, they use an automatic stirrer.
“All we have to do is flip a switch and we’re good,” he said.
In addition to kettle corn, Barnes can create 20 different flavors of popcorn and mixes.
“So I can make you just ranch or just buffalo or I can put those together and make a buffalo ranch which is like super good in my opinion,” he said. “We tend to just stick to kettle corn for most events, but occasionally we will pull out like cheddar or something or if someone requests like plain popcorn because some people are diabetic so it’s super easy to make the plain popcorn with salt. We even have butter to make it kind of like a movie theater.”
Barnes offers four sizes of kettle corn — $3 for small, $5 for medium, $7 for large and $10 for a mega bag.
“So I like to say it’s like ice cream: one scoop, two scoops, three scoops or five,” he said.
In addition to local events, Barnes takes his business to the three-day D-Day Conneaut, which is one of the largest re-enactments of D-Day held each summer up on Lake Erie.
“It’s right there on the beach, and this beach resembles Normandy so much that movies have actually been shot there,” he said.
Barnes originally wanted to study molecular biology.
“I really loved molecular biology. I really wanted to do research into genes and whatnot because one thing that was big in my life was I used to have Lyme disease and now I’m cured of it. I wanted to try and do research and help try to cure that or some other disease,” he said.
However, he had problems with chemistry.
“I kind of had to give up that dream, but I always had business in the back of my mind, that being my backup. So once that path didn’t work out, it was an easy choice just to go right back to business, and I’m really enjoying it,” he said.
His concentration is marketing.
“I’ve been managing a business for six years. I know how to do that. I want to learn how to market it,” he said.
Barnes plans to continue with the kettle corn business throughout the rest of his time at ONU, then see what happens after graduation.
“It’s a blast helping people and just seeing the excitement on their face when they get some,” he said. “We’ll just see where it goes.”