Business is popping

Colin Houlihan

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

At 23 years old, Colin Houlihan can hardly believe he’s able to support himself and his fiancée making kettle corn. But his business, Ohoulis Kettle Corn, which the Lake Almanor native launched last October, wasn’t created out of thin air. It’s a franchise of sorts, based on his father’s business in Idaho. The beauty of it is he has a built-in mentor, Houlihan says. He uses hand-me-down equipment from his father’s early days, and he’s able to quickly ask for advice when presented with a new challenge. You can find Houlihan at festivals—he’s not present at any of the farmers’ markets just yet. This Friday (April 20), he’ll be at Blaze ’N J’s (236 W. Ninth St.) throughout the day and at Fork in the Road at DeGarmo Park—where he’ll be a regular fixture—that evening, from 5:30-8:30 p.m. He makes everything on-site, so just follow your nose. Reach Houlihan at 781-4099 or find Ohoulis Kettle Corn on Facebook.

How’d you get into kettle corn?

I got started with my dad—it’s all his and my grandpa’s recipes. I got in contact with all of his distributors and we use the same product, so it’s been a family business and it’s worked out really well.

Do you make your kettle corn in your home kitchen?

No, it’s all made at the stand. I have a kettle and it’s all portable. When I go to a show, I lay out a tarp, I set up my tent, I have my hand-washing station all set up. And then I just start cooking, and I fill up the table and people start coming by. The smell is my best friend. At the Tulip Festival in Kelseyville, we got up and started cooking around 10:30, and from 10:30 till 4:30, I didn’t stop cooking and my fiancée didn’t stop selling. We had a line where people were waiting at least 30 minutes to get a bag of corn. We ended up selling out. The smell draws people in, and from there, it’s “Pick your flavor.”

Tell me about your flavors.

I have a caramel, original, sweet and spicy, cinnamon maple, fruity pebble, habanero cheddar, movie theater butter and caramel apple. All of those are handed down from my dad—he’s got 50-plus recipes. He’s got all the extra equipment that I don’t have the money to spend on just yet. He does the candy corn—with the chocolate drizzle and the nuts. He does the whole 9 yards—I’m just 2 yards right now.

Cooking on-site must keep your food waste down.

What’s nice is, there is practically no waste. Whenever I do have leftover bags, I either give it to family or I go up to Lake Almanor and put it in my mom’s restaurant, and they’ll sell it for me. Even the siftings, I sell them for chicken feed.