MINT HILL, NC – When Debbie Carver was laid off from a corporate job in 2018, her kids had the idea to help her start a new business. Reluctant to have their mom start over in the corporate world and looking for something to keep her active, they landed on kettle corn, just like Debbie’s mom and her sister used to make.
In April of 2018, Carver went into business as “Mama K’s,” popping kettle corn in a food truck stationed outside Sammy’s Snowballs on Fairview Road. Carver stored her equipment in a small space she rented adjacent to Sammy’s and sold kettle corn out of the trailer at events.
When COVID hit in 2020, Carver watched her bookings for the year dwindle as event after event was cancelled. Looking for a way to stay in business, Carver’s eyes landed on her storage space. With the help of her son, Carver turned the space into a small retail store and opened for business in July of 2020.
Then, something unexpected happened. Carver started getting calls from boutiques and other stores interested in carrying her product. More calls came in, monthly orders from people shipping Carver’s kettle corn to customers or employees. “All of a sudden, our event business turned into a little bit of a distribution business,” says Carver.
Carver is currently talking to four different retailers who are interested in carrying her product in their stores. “It’s really taken off the the point where we’re now looking for our own commercial space,” says Carver, who hopes to find something local that allows her to pop indoors on site in the back and sell at a store in the front.
But at present, Carver is still popping in the trusty trailer her son purchased for her three and a half years ago. In addition to classic kettle corn, Mama K’s offers delicious and popular flavors like white cheddar, strawberry and salted caramel. “A little boy told me, ‘Miss Debbie, it tastes like Cracker Jack on steroids!’” Carver laughs. For the holidays, Mama K’s will offer “Grinch Corn,” a festive red, green and white mix of strawberry, green apple and classic kettle corn.
With events picking back up, Mama K’s is once again in demand; in fact, Carver is booked every weekend except Thanksgiving for the rest of the year. In the coming weeks, you’ll see Mama K’s at Olde Mecklenburg Brewery’s Christmas Market and the Town of Mint Hill’s Parade and Tree Lighting. You can always buy Mama K’s Kettle Corn in her store, located to the left of the Sammy’s So Good on Fairview Road. From now until the end of the year, she’ll be open Saturdays and Sundays from 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm. Mama K’s is also in the process of launching a website that will go live any day: mkkettlecorn.com.
Giving back to the community remains an important priority for Carver. “Every month, we try to give back to a local charity,” says Carver. “Servant’s Heart, the veterans group here, AA, breast cancer. When we move forward with our own location and our commercial space, we’ve been talking about doing our own nonprofit because there’s such a need.”
For the holidays, Carver is excited to once again work with longtime partner Mayra Caraballo to sell her beautiful handmade bags for charity. Customers can fill Mayra’s gift bags with three of Carver’s top-selling flavors: classic kettle corn, salted caramel or “Grinch” corn. 100% of each sale (minus the cost of the corn) will go a local charity.
People may have seen Mama K’s at Mint Hill Madness or a family fun night, but it’s so much more than that. They provide treats for wedding receptions and baby showers. They pop for teachers on workdays and participate in Spirit Nights for local schools. “Any celebration that you have in your life, we can help with that,” says Carver. “We will work with you to give you what you need for a special day.”
Three and a half years down the line, Carver is filled with gratitude to be where she is. “You know, I got laid off, and this was just something to help me,” says Carver, looking back, “and now all of a sudden, I feel like I’ve got a full time job! We’re so blessed, though,” she continues. “We really are. Mama K was my mom, and nothing makes me more proud than when somebody sees our trailer, and they say, ‘Is that you?’ It makes me so happy because I feel like my mom would be very proud of what we’re doing.”