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Pleasanton: Kettle corn vendor begins long process of rebuilding business after truck theft

Stolen vehicle found emptied out in Oakland, leaving him with nothing left
Ronald Buder shows off a bag of his popular kettle corn outside of Gene's Fine Foods in Pleasanton.

Ronald Buder has spent the last 29 years doing what he does best -- making kettle corn.

"It happened as a fluke," he said regarding when he first started his business in 1994. "I bought this business as a joke and next thing I know, 28 years later, I'm making a fortune making kettle corn all over the state of California."

So when the longtime vendor learned about his truck and equipment being stolen from a hotel in Pleasanton, he knew he had to keep going, even if it meant starting from scratch.

"There's nothing left of my business," he said. "They took the truck ... and all the equipment to make it happen."

Buder had been staying at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel on Johnson Drive while he was in town to sell his popular snack at the Gene's Fine Foods market on Hopyard Road.

Buder primarily focuses on attending shows, festivals and special events where he can cater to large groups of people at once, but when he doesn't have anything going on he tries to go to stores like Gene's at least once a month to sell his kettle corn.

"The supermarkets are supplemental, but I love them for it," he said.

He said that out of the three other stores that he has worked with ever since he moved to California in order to run his business, Gene's has been his favorite.

"Ron's the sweetest guy you'd ever meet," said Scott Buckridge, store manager of Gene's Fine Foods. "He comes out here and he works hard."

But on June 23, Buder's life was derailed when he found out that his truck, which contained all of his kettle making equipment in the back, was stolen from the DoubleTree hotel parking lot.

"Everyone loves him and we love him, and it's just shocking that something like that would happen in Pleasanton," Buckridge said.

According to Teri Yan, community and public relations coordinator for the Pleasanton Police Department, the auto theft report was taken that same day and officers "canvassed the area for potential leads and pertinent information was entered into the stolen vehicle database."

Since then, Buder has created a GoFundMe account in order to retrieve some of the costs he has lost since his truck was stolen and with the hope that maybe whoever stole his stuff would eventually return it.

As of time of publication, more than $8,000 has been donated to the account.

But to his dismay, Buder said that he recently learned his truck was found Wednesday morning in the streets of Oakland with all of his equipment, and all of the wheels on the truck, gone.

No one deserves that, but especially a guy like that. He's just trying to make a living," Buckridge said. "He was barely making ends meet because of COVID, (which) shut him down for that whole two year period. He's just trying to get on his feet and for this to happen, was really sad."

But that hasn't broken Buder's love for making kettle corn as he is now trying his best to start again all from scratch.

He plans on doing so by borrowing a friend's kettle corn making equipment this week -- he also said that there might be a chance to buy that equipment -- so that he can tentatively plan to go out this weekend to the Pacific Market in Sebastopol where he can begin to make up some of the money he has lost.

He said that he still has a laundry list of "a million things" to do, things to purchase and kettle corn to make in order for him to be able to even make it out this weekend.

"I have a plan, but I don't know exactly how to execute it efficiently. But it's getting done. But it's Thursday, and I need to be someplace on Saturday, I hope," he said. "So if I don't make it, then I don't make it. It's not worth the stress."

He did say, however, that even if he doesn't get everything in line for this week, he won't quit on a business he has had for decades.

Buder first got into the kettle corn business in 1994 when he and his wife attended a craft fair in Yuma, Ariz. At the time, they ran a business where they sold handbags that his wife made and when they set up their booth at the fair, that's when Buder experienced the smell of kettle corn for the first time in his life.

The smell came from a vendor that set up shop right next to Buder and his wife and after he bought a bag, he was forever changed.

"I went directly next door, I bought a bag and I could not stop eating it," he said.

Then, almost by an act of fate, the kettle corn vendor asked if Buder wanted to help bag the popcorn and after helping him with that and, at one point, with cooking the sweet snack, the vendor told Buder about an opportunity to start his own kettle corn franchise by giving the vendor $10,000 to start his own business.

A week later, Buder gave him the money and has been making kettle corn ever since. And he said he hopes to continue his business by buying another kettle somehow in order to keep his business alive.

He added that the GoFundMe has definitely helped with that goal.

He also said that while he still needs to figure out how the website works and how to retrieve those funds, he is amazed by the generosity and the support of so many people -- most of whom he doesn't even know.

"Of all the donations that we've gotten, we only know three people and there's been hundreds of people. So these are all strangers donating to me," Buder said.


About the Author: Christian Trujano

Christian Trujano, a Bay Area native and San Jose State alum, joined Embarcadero Media in May 2022 following his graduation. He is an award-winning student journalist who has covered stories in San Jose ranging from crime to higher education.
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