Students serve up a very tasty project: MIHS seniors lauch Lucky Corn at Summer Celebration!

Elizabeth Celms/Mercer Island Reporter MIHS senior George Gebben checks on a boiling pot of oil while making Lucky Corn kettle corn for visitors at Summer Celebration. -
Elizabeth Celms/Mercer Island Reporter MIHS senior George Gebben checks on a boiling pot of oil while making Lucky Corn kettle corn for visitors at Summer Celebration.
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While most teenagers were enjoying precious hours of late-morning sleep, Mercer Island High School seniors George Gebben and Austin Frazier spent the first weeks of summer break up at dawn sweating over the kettle.

The two were preparing for their Summer Celebration! debut of Lucky Corn — homemade organic kettle corn — as their 2008 culminating project, a new graduation requirement for seniors beginning this year.

After drawing up a business plan and getting it approved by MIHS teachers, the boys began the long process of licensing their company, applying for a food handler’s permit, insurance and a booth at this year’s Summer Celebration!

“It’s been a lot of work,” said Frazier, who hopes to study business in college. “The project requirement is 80 hours [of work], and this ended up taking way more than that. We’ve put in at least 100 hours.”

Based on the crowd outside Lucky Corn’s booth, their hard work was well appreciated. With $1 a cup and $3 a bag, the high-school entrepreneurs offered the most affordable snack on the street.

Most of Summer Celebration’s food — from corn dogs to salmon wraps — started at $5, the typical price of fresh-cooked kettle corn at any other fair.

The seniors were also selling fresh-squeezed pink lemonade for $3, which, in last weekend’s 80-degree weather, drew just as many customers as the kettle corn.

The secret to their popular lemonade? A hint of fresh strawberry, Gebben confessed. As for the kettle corn, the seniors improvised a recipe they found on the Internet.

“It’s completely original kettle corn. We looked up a recipe online, experimented with it in George’s kitchen and thought, ‘Hey this is really good. We could sell this stuff,’” Frazier said.

Then it dawned on them — with Frazier’s business instinct and Gebben’s dexterity in the kitchen, they could launch their culinary discovery within the framework of next year’s culminating project. The idea was openly encouraged by MIHS teachers, and thus began Lucky Corn.

“We’ve already learned so much about business and advertising,” Frazier said, scooping up a fresh bag of kettle corn for a customer. “We had to make signs and design flyers. We had to get a permit for this booth and buy enough ingredients to last [the weekend]. Actually, it ended up being way more expensive than we thought, and we own everything except for this tarp.”

As part of the senior culmination project, Gebben and Frazier must write up and present a summary of their experience — and what they learned from the entrepreneurship — before graduating next spring. They must also include examples of advertising and promotion, business accounts and, of course, the secret recipe behind Lucky Corn.

Although the Summer Celebration! vendors were barely breaking even by Saturday, their flare for business kept the kettle burning. “It’s been great so far. We’ve just got to get through Sunday, and after that we want to expand. That is, if we can get out of debt first,” Gebben said with a smile.

Yet while he was talking, Frazier was busy juggling three customers at once. And the line was still growing.

“Our secret is that we put care into every batch,” Frazier said. “And people have said it’s some of the best kettle corn they’ve tasted.”

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