by Michelle Rondinelli, President of Kitchen Kettle Foods, Inc.
Our Village of 40 specialty shops, restaurants, and lodging stemmed from very humble beginnings in my grandparent’s garage in 1954. To think a stack of kettles and a few dozen recipes would eventually turn into a community of shops that welcomes over 800,000 people each year is something that none of us could have imagined.
My grandfather, Bob Burnley was always the big picture thinker and my grandmother, Pat made sure all the details were covered while also raising three young children. He and his brother-in-law, Paul Weaver, were told by a friend, Ralph Gamber, (founder of Gamber Glass & Dutch Gold Honey), about a widow near Harrisburg that had a small wholesale jam and relish business for sale. The idea intrigued the two young men because they were interested in starting a food business to appeal to the increasing number of tourists coming to Lancaster County.
Paul Weaver and my grandfather purchased the business for $5,000 and my grandmother gave up her auction clerk job that she held with her father. While the decision to buy the jelly business was not a popular one with either set of parents, it didn’t stop them from pursuing their dreams. My grandfather kept his full-time job and my grandmother was busy making batches of jelly that they sold to Stroheman’s Bakery in Philadelphia. They soon realized that the wholesale business was a tough way to get started and decided to shift their efforts to selling retail.
This jelly business started with a belief in sharing the culture and uniqueness of our area with the rest of the world as well as a passion for service that came so naturally to my grandparents. They were keenly focused on the experience and created a space that allowed guests to watch them work. That open kitchen concept has been one of the key drivers of our success over the years and continues to be the main focus in our flagship store.
My grandparents continued to look for ways to attract more visitors and decided to invite Schreiner’s Flowers to open a plant shop. Later in 1963, Earl and Molly Clark from Dutch Wonderland opened a gift shop. A craft shop, leather shop, and snack shop were soon to follow. By 1968 Paul Weaver had sold his portion of the jelly business to my grandparents who were looking to grow that part of the business as well.
The second generation, having grown up spending days labeling jars, filling shelves and many other necessary business tasks, began to return to the family business in the 1970’s. Mike, Jim and Joanne focused their efforts on implementing processes and procedures that allowed the business to be profitable while continuing to expand.
As time went on, the Village continued to attract visitors from all over the world, becoming a regular stop for many tour companies that wanted to give their guests a taste of what Lancaster County had to offer. They came to see the Amish, to sample local flavors and purchase jams, relishes, quilts, and leather goods.
I grew up just down the road from the business and started bussing tables in one of our restaurants at the age of 9. I had the opportunity to work in many of our shops before I left for college to major in Business in 1996. After graduation, I returned full-time to pursue my passion for hospitality and the family business. I feel so fortunate to go to work every day doing what I love while working alongside my father, Mike.
The third generation consists of my cousin, Devon Burnley, who purchased her father’s operating company in 2016, and myself. Together we are committed to honoring our history, while also striving for ways to stay relevant in the world of brick-and-mortar retail.
We’ve done this by focusing on the guest experience while introducing food concepts such as wine, olive oil, and gourmet meats and cheeses that a foodie is sure to love. In addition, we carefully select national brands that will allow our guests to have a complete and memorable shopping experience.
It really does take a Village to be successful. The commitment and dedication of our team and tenants to our Vision, Mission, and Values is undeniable and one of the keys to our longevity. Our culture is what sets us apart from other organizations and allows us to deliver a consistent experience for our guests. We are committed to Spreading Happiness to our guests, our team, and everyone we do business with.
We know a strong culture, coupled with quality products and a commitment to provide an exceptional experience, will lead to positive results. We also know that we are extremely fortunate to be able to deliver these things in a community with a nationally recognized brand. Lancaster County’s success from a tourism standpoint is a combined effort from so many properties that are committed to many of the same things that we are at Kitchen Kettle Village.
As a tourism destination and one of the leading industries in this county, we can tout our incredible theaters, attractions, amazing shopping, a variety of restaurants and markets, along with beautiful hotels, and of course the Amish culture. There is no other place that offers the downtown experience we have, while only being a few miles from picturesque views of our stunning farmland.
According to the “Power of Lancaster County Tourism” report that was completed in 2019 by Tourism Economics, close to 9 million people visit this county each year, spending over $2.24 billion in 2018 alone. This spending helps create jobs, both directly and indirectly related to the industry, while also infusing tax revenue into our local economy.
We have something special here in Lancaster County. Something that other destinations would love to replicate. While they may be able to do that with similar products or experiences, they can’t match the people that make it all happen. The love that residents have for this community is so evident and translates into all that we do. There is a sense of care and compassion here, which shows up in philanthropic giving, volunteering, and forward-thinking.
We help one another when things get tough and the last two years have been perhaps the most difficult our community has faced. Our industry weathered the Covid storm and is coming out the other end an even stronger destination that so many are flocking to experience. We rely on Discover Lancaster to get the message out to our surrounding areas and see it as our job to entice them to visit us when they are in the county. We are thankful for the marketing efforts this organization has provided our industry over the years and look forward to welcoming many new faces in the future.
We also have a sincere appreciation for our relationship with the Lancaster Chamber and all they have done for the business community for the last 150 years. The resources and expertise that we have access to at a local level are top-notch and something not easily found in other areas.
Thanks to the Chamber we’ve been able to network with professionals throughout the county, develop young leaders with the help of their training programs, navigate business challenges using the resources provided and give back to the community with various volunteering opportunities.
I am amazed at the history of this organization and the impact they’ve had on our county. There is so much to celebrate from our past and I’m excited to think about what the future may bring. Happy 150th Anniversary, Lancaster Chamber!
The Lancaster Chamber is proud to be celebrating its 150th Anniversary this year, alongside our business community. In the month of April, our content theme will be focused on tourism and hospitality – sharing stories of our businesses and leaders contributing to the exceptional and unique experiences found here in Lancaster County. This article was first printed in our 150th Commemorative Edition of Thriving Magazine, you can read more here: 150th Commemorative Edition of Thriving Magazine