By Sally J. Clasen
In 2013, brothers Aaron and Rudi Sinykin decided to give back to the community on a more personal level, one kernel of kindness at a time.
Kettle Heroes, a gourmet popcorn company, wasn’t the siblings’ first venture together. The two were Subway franchisee owners, but felt the experience lacked a local connection. So, they came up with the popcorn concept, first selling their snack via a food truck at farmers markets, school events and at Arizona Cardinals games.
Today, from their store and manufacturing facility in Tempe with 11 employees, they pop and bag roughly 1,000 pounds of high-quality popcorn a day that’s distributed throughout the state at supermarkets including Fry’s, Whole Foods, and AJ’s, and discount stores Home Goods, Burlington and Ross.
Kettle Heroes offers classic flavored popcorn, but also Southwestern selections true to the region, such as prickly pear, Hatch green chile, and cinnamon-sugar churro flavors. Plus, they offer a savory porcini truffle cheddar variety and Popcorn Zen, similar to Skinny Pop for people watching their waistline, according to Rudi.
“It’s like movie theater popcorn without all the calories,” he says. “We offer fewer flavors, but do them well and make sure we can keep them fresh.”
Sold in stores, online and now through a natural food distributor that will expand sales in Western states, Kettle Heroes is available in packages and gift tins that can be customized with specific labels and logos.
Fans of the artisan popcorn also can visit the company’s mobile food trucks located at farmers markets and other public venues throughout Phoenix.
While the brothers pride themselves on their fresh, clean-ingredient popcorn—which is certified gluten, GMO and nut-free, as well as kosher—it’s the message behind the universal snack that drives their business.
“It got to the point where we were getting tired of a corporate system. It didn’t feel like we were supporting the local community and we wanted to make more of a difference, so we started our own concept,” Rudi says.
The result: A quality product that is fun and, more importantly, leaves a lasting impression.
The Pat Tillman Foundation was one of the original beneficiaries of Kettle Heroes, with a portion of sales earmarked for the local nonprofit carrying on the mission of the beloved Arizona State University football player and alum.
The company has supported many other causes, donating to breast cancer research, the American Cancer Society, local Boys and Girls Clubs, and Local First Arizona, too. More recently, the company delivered a pallet of popcorn to volunteers working at the State Farm Arena COVID-19 vaccination site.
“We’re celebrating everyday heroes—giving to people who are going above and beyond. It’s even more critical with what our country has gone through in the last year. It’s about bringing people together and enjoying something simple and spreading joy,” says Rudi of the company’s mission.
“Popcorn is associated with fun and happy times: carnivals, festivals, watching a movie. You mix that with charitable giving at the same time and it’s a win-win.”