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More than a kernel of taste for local corn vendors

BY MARY HARRINGTON | MARCH 9, 2009 7:27 AM

Whether slathered in spices, blanketed in bacon, or sizzling in salt and pepper, corn may come to Iowa City in a whole new package, freshening up the street-food scene one cob at a time.

CorNroc, a new student-run business, will soon dish out corn-on-the-cob from a downtown kiosk if a permit for spring sales is granted.

For co-owner and UI senior Mokotsi Rukundo, 22, the concept didn’t come immediately. It wasn’t until he fled the fields of Iowa that he realized the entrepreneurial inspiration he was searching for had always been growing right in front of him: corn.

During a family reunion, a corner-rounding line on a New York City street led Rukundo to the Midwestern flavors of an East Coast eatery selling corn-on-the-cob as an on-the-go entree. It was a concept meant for Iowa City, he said. So now, Rokundo and roommate Spencer Paige, a 22-year-old Kirkwood Community College student, are working to bring the business back home.

“Iowa is the corn state, so I thought, why aren’t we selling this stuff as a main dish, ready-to-go” Rokundo said.

As the two await city approval for a license to sell corn-on-the-cob from a Pedestrian Mall cart, the duo is perfecting plans to keep every kernel fresh and local.

The Iowa City residents will purchase the corn from UI business-school alumnus Blake Kerns, who said he always delivers his sweet corn the same day it’s picked.

The sweet starch will be complemented by a variety of toppings inspired partly by flavors from the New York corn café, along with some help from a culinary student friend. Three styles of corn were chosen for the start-up menu: the traditional grilled with butter, salt, and pepper, a bacon-wrapped cob, and Mexican style, coated with mayonnaise, parmesan, and chili powder.

The Mexican-style concoction was gobbled by approving fans during trial sales at several Hawkeye football games during the fall. Roughly 500 servings were dished out as fans munched on and posed with the iconic Iowan food, like a golden game-day prop.

“It’ll be much more than a food but a way of showing Hawkeye spirit,” Rokundo said.

Selling that pride from the black-and-gold cart for lunch, dinner, and late-night crowds will likely pack the two students’ schedules, but it’s a business endeavor of passion that the two are eager to begin.

“Working as a team is much less stressful than going alone, especially when juggling the task with school,” Paige said.

Already, Rokundo and Paige devote a minimum of 10 hours a week to the project — aided with a $1,500 prize from a business contest — working from their university-granted office at the Bedell Entrepreneurship Learning Laboratory, said their business mentor, Lynn Allendorf.

“They take their business seriously, and I don’t see why they wouldn’t succeed in the downtown scene,” said Allendorf, the managing director of the Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center.

If business goes well downtown, the students plan to expand sales to a variety of settings, including music festivals. They’re looking toward long-term goals, eager to kick off their entrepreneurial undertakings in Iowa City.

“I’m excited about investing in our state’s own materials, about changing the way this food is perceived,” Rokundo said. “I’m excited about seeing Iowans proud of corn.”


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