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Saturday, Sep 23, 2023

Popcorn Turns Career Inside Out

Three years ago Richard Buchalter was a movie executive, spending his days working on licensing and distribution deals for Image Entertainment in Chatsworth. Today, the 52-year-old spends his day’s making popcorn – and couldn’t be more proud of it. Then again, his California Kettle Corn makes popcorn that is a few cuts above the standard movie theater snack typically doled out by teenage workers. Think gourmet nacho cheese or exotic offerings such as caramel chocolate, grape and bacon cheese. Now, after building his business at local farmers markets and fairs, and expanding into retail distribution, he has opened a shop in Newbury Park. “Because of the brick-and-mortar store, we have a place to manufacture and more visibility,” Buchalter said. “It’s important to have different revenue streams.” The seed for the business was planted when Buchalter saw a long line for a kettle corn stand at a fair in Moorpark in 2007. Within three months, he founded California Kettle Corn on his own dime and worked its first fair in Mission Hills, though it would be three years before he left his movie industry job and devoted himself fulltime to the business. These days, Buchalter still hand pops traditional kettle corn – a simple sweet and salty treat – at community events, where he brings on several temporary employees and might gross $10,000 on a good day. But he also distributes flavored corn popped at his store to more than 20 Albertsons grocery stores, as well as businesses such as the Four Seasons hotel in Westlake Village and the Burbank outlet of Rocket Fizz, a specialty candy store. That retail distribution makes him about $15,000 a month. Robbie Denny is the manager of the produce stand at Underwood Family Farms in Moorpark, Buchalter’s first client. She said Buchalter delivers kettle corn three to four times a week to keep up with demand. “People know his brand and ask for it,” she said. Buchalter’s 900-square-foot shop at 3321 W. Kimber Drive sells servings ranging from three-ounce bags of various flavors for $2.50, to a 24-ounce family bag that costs $12. But he admits business at the shop can be slow. “There are days when nobody walks in,” he said. Instead, he said the real money is in expanding his retail distribution, but competition is stiff. Popcornoplis, an El Segundo company, for example, has 11 franchises across five states and two in Kuwait. “They’re like big brother,” he said. “Who knows if I’ll ever reach that level. Right now, I just want to conquer California.” – Elliot Golan

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