Suburban Contessa

KATHI MCARTHUR AND KRISTI KOTROUS, right, run Suburban Contessa, a new business located in the historic Pickled Heron building on Pioneer Street in Ridgefield. The sisters make caramel corn, which can serve as a great Christmas gift.

    They are perhaps the sweetest gals in Ridgefield. Or, they just might have the sweetest business in town.

    Kristi Kotrous and sister Kathi McArthur run Suburban Contessa out of the historic Pickled Heron building on Pioneer Street and business is popping – literally.

    As you walk into the building you are almost overwhelmed by the delicious scent of brown sugar, butter, vanilla and freshly-popped popcorn. Kristi and Kathi are hard at work in the below ground facility, but it’s their caramel corn that is soaring off shelves from their online site and at retail outlets around the area.

    Kristi, a homemaker and Kathi, who works for Miller Insurance Agency, became famous for their caramel corn when they made up batches for birthdays and holidays and passed out bags of the golden treat to friends and family.

    It sounds like a Hollywood script, but after hearing “This is soooo good, you ought to sell it,” Kristi relates how they decided to give it a shot and opened their fledgling business in May. Today, sales online and at retailers in the area are booming as folks discover their home-made, hand-tossed caramel corn, as well as their scone mixes and spices.

    “We offer three kinds of corn, our Traditional Caramel Corn, Sweet With Heat – Carmel Corn With a Kick, and Sweet & Salty,’’ said Kristi.

    The spicy version carries a tongue-tingling fire, the salty version uses natural Black Hawaiian sea salt.

    “We started with the traditional caramel corn, but at an RV show where we had a booth a man came up to us and said ‘this corn is great, but if you want to make a million bucks, you should make it spicy,’ so we tried it and our Sweet With Heat has become very popular,” said Kathi.

    The special popcorn they use is imported from Nebraska and is air-popped, their two air-poppers going pretty much 8 hours a day, then the hot kernels are covered with a molten mixture of brown sugar, butter, corn syrup and vanilla and baked for 2 hours at a low temperature. During the baking process, the caramel corn is stirred every 20 minutes to break up clumps and emerges as individual pieces that are glazed with a golden-brown hue.

    That corn is then air dried in a humidified room before being packed in 6-ounce packages for shipping. They make about 15 batches a day, enough to fill 165 bags, at the same time they whip up 200 bags of scone mixes. It’s just the two of them, a blur of activity in the small kitchen, as they pop, stir, mix and bag all day long.

    While they can’t control what stores charge for their products, Kristi and Kathi suggest a retail price around $5 for the caramel corn, scone mixes and spices.

    The two easy-to-make scone mixes: Cookies and Cream and Cherry Almond, both of which only require adding sour cream; Spicy and Carolina Contessa spice mixes; and a Beer Bread mix that only requires you to add beer and butter, are the other products they make at their Ridgefield location.

    While selling to retail outlets and through their online website, www.suburbancontessa.com, the affable sisters are also targeting local events such as bazaars, holiday markets, marketing holiday and corporate gift boxes, and selling their products to fundraising organizations.

    When asked what it is like to work with your sister, both ladies smiled.

    “We really didn’t get along well until our 30’s, but now we really enjoy each other,” Kristi confessed.

    She also shared the secret of the name of the company.

    “My husband always called me Princess, but I told him one day I’d rather be a Contessa, so that’s what we decided to call the company,” she joked.

    Kristi and Kathi’s carmel corn, scone mixes and spices are available at:

• Four-C’s Farm Fresh Produce, 6711 NE 219th St., Battle Ground.

• Battle Ground Produce, 915 E Main St., Battle Ground.

• Pasta GiGi’s, 1417 SE Rasmussen Rd., Suite 121), Battle Ground.

• Pioneer Market, 203 Pioneer St., Ridgefield.

• Neighbors Markets, 1707 Main Street, Vancouver.

• Morton’s Café, 303 E. 15th St., Vancouver.

• B. Young RV, 16803 SE McLoughlin, Portland (B. Young RV also provides one of their gift baskets with each RV they sell – it doesn’t hurt that Kristi’s husband, Kevin, is one of their sales consultants).

    There will be an Open House at Suburban Contessa on Fri., Dec. 2, from 4-9 p.m., at 418 Pioneer St., in Ridgefield. Local residents can sample their products and buy some for Christmas and Hanukah gifts directly from Kristi and Kathi – then you can see (and taste) for yourself why they are called “the sweetest gals in town.”

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