You don’t have to do a lot of things to have a business. You just have to do one thing – one simple, delicious, thing – and be great at it.
Mary Halenza, owner of Lone Star Delights in downtown Kyle, cooks kettle corn, and lots of it.
“It’s salty sweet,” she says, “so it takes care of the cravings on both sides. And the beautiful thing about kettle corn is that it’s not overly bad for you. We use a special type of corn that is mostly fiber. When you compare it to any other sugary snack, our product goes a long way – only 170 calories in three cups.”
Nine years ago Mary started baking kettle corn part-time using a food trailer. She made the rounds at local festivals and picked up some wholesale accounts. Eventually people started asking when she would open a retail store. In August of 2015, Mary opened a small shop on the east-facing side of downtown next to the railroad tracks. Since opening she has added a host of other treats and products available for purchase. From gourmet fruit ices, to locally sourced beef jerky, to custom iron art and fire pits, Mary’s store is really something special.
“I chose Kyle because it’s where I live,” she recalled. “Everything about our marketing is that we are a local business. We want to promote where we’re from. We chose downtown as a storefront because we want to be part of the dream of making downtown Kyle a destination like Wimberley or Fredericksburg.”
That dream, while noble, is slipping away. “We’re a commuter city, and lots of the new people don’t shop here,” said Mary. “They go away and come back at night. Unfortunately, our local people are outsiders in a round-about way because we never see them. They’ve already done their shopping when they get home.”
Kettle corn, while delicious, is thought to be a carnival food. It’s something you pick up when you’re walking around shops and taking in the sights. Downtown Kyle doesn’t currently offer that type of atmosphere. Festivals that were once staples to the downtown area – The Kyle Fair & Music Festival and Fajita Fiesta — have now relocated to Central Texas Speedway and Buda, respectively.
“Most days we struggle just to survive,” says Mary. “During Kyle’s tree-lighting ceremony we sold $2,500 worth of kettle corn in just a few hours. That’s the difference a crowd makes.”
Downtown Kyle is home to some iconic restaurants like Texas Pie Company and Milt’s BBQ. Recently we’ve added a few bars, a coffee house that serves cocktails, and a great music venue in Down South Railhouse, but for downtown to thrive a much broader and more robust approach must be taken. If enough people commit to creating change, one day we’ll look up and Kyle will truly be on the map.
Mary hasn’t given up hope that Kyle can be great.
“The community of Kyle is awesome,” she said. “I moved here when Kyle had 5,000 people. But so far, with all the growth, there’s still a small town feel. I can walk into stores and restaurants and run into people I know. I like that everyone tries to support each other as much as possible. But I worry because we don’t have as much support as we used to. For Kyle to be great, there has to be something to make people proud to live here. We need something to get people to say, ‘Wow, you’re from Kyle! You’ve got X or Y or Z.’ But we just don’t have that right now. We need something that makes Kyle a destination – a place where you park your car and just walk around. Austin, Bee Caves, the Domain, Wimberley, Fredericksburg, and even San Marcos all have those things. But not Kyle. And that’s what we need.”
Mary concluded our conversation with a sobering observation. “Right now it seems like there’s so many houses and apartments coming in,” she said. “We’re expanding Austin. We’re not expanding Kyle. And that’s a problem. Unless we make an effort to differentiate ourselves, we’re essentially an Austin suburb. We need to focus on downtown and on our history. We need to bring Kyle to life.”