The call of kettle corn 

click to enlarge Danielle Marvella, owner of Rochester Kettle Corn, serves up the treat in a variety of flavors with her partner, Joseph Powell, and daughter, Alexandria Porter, at the Rochester Public Market and more than a dozen festivals and events. - PHOTO BY REBECCA RAFFERTY
  • PHOTO BY REBECCA RAFFERTY
  • Danielle Marvella, owner of Rochester Kettle Corn, serves up the treat in a variety of flavors with her partner, Joseph Powell, and daughter, Alexandria Porter, at the Rochester Public Market and more than a dozen festivals and events.
Kettle corn is ubiquitous at festivals and fairgrounds. Indulging is contagious. It spreads like this: You see someone munching from a comically tall bag they're cradling, you get a hankering for that salty sweetness and ask them where they got it, and they point you in the right direction. Next thing you know, you’re guiding someone else who caught the bug from you.

When you grab a bag this season, chances are it will be from Rochester Kettle Corn, a small business founded by Danielle Marvella and her family in 2017 that seems to pop up everywhere you turn.

They’re at the Flower City Days at the Rochester Public Market, every day and night of the Rochester Fringe, Corn Hill Arts Festival, It’s a Wonderful Life in the South Wedge, and more than a dozen other events.
click to enlarge The Rochester Kettle Corn crew. - PHOTO BY REBECCA RAFFERTY
  • PHOTO BY REBECCA RAFFERTY
  • The Rochester Kettle Corn crew.

“I should be tired of eating it, and I’m not,” Marvella said with a laugh. “We really dug in and devoted ourselves to it.”

Marvella, 42, founded the business with her partner Joseph Powell, 52, after what she called a lifetime of ill-fitting occupations and making ends meet while raising her children. Her grandmother gave her a loan to get the kettle corn business started, she found an affordable cauldron that the corn gets cooked in and began experimenting. Marvella’s 17-year-old daughter, Alexandria Porter, helps run the business as well.

Halloween of 2017 was their test market.

“We actually popped kettle corn in the driveway and gave it out to all of the trick-or-treaters,” she said.

Marvella characterizes her corn as somewhere between traditional kettle corn and caramel corn, because she just wanted more flavor and kept adding more sugar when she was developing her recipe. Then came more experiments, which yielded a barbecue variety, the cinnamon toast crunch-like variety — meant to entice early-morning customers with a breakfast-y flavor, said Powell — and a lightly salted corn for folks who don’t want too much sweetness.

It’s a universal treat — it’s vegan, gluten-free, free of peanuts and tree nuts, dairy-free, and soy-free.
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The business first hit the scene at the Rochester Public Market’s Holidays at the Market in 2017 and was steadily increasing its festival presence until the pandemic hit. But the family weathered the downtime, and Rochester Kettle Corn has been invited to a growing list of festivals. Sales during festival season support the family in the off-season, when they work on their tie-dye business.

“This is the coolest thing I’ve ever done,” Marvella said. “And I don’t ever want to do anything else.”

Rebecca Rafferty is an arts writer for CITY. She can be reached at [email protected].
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