From dorms to downtown: Kent State graduates open local businesses

Gabrielle Martinez

After spending the past four years in a small town, some Kent State alumni tend to stick around after graduation, and some even go on to own and operate their own businesses in the heart of Tree City.

As part of downtown Kent’s redevelopment, many Kent State graduates are taking over the city with their entrepreneurial endeavors.

Located on E. Erie Street, the gourmet popcorn shop, Popped, opened its doors in January 2012. The shop is owned and operated by Aaron Rosenberg, who graduated in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and again in 2010 with a master of science in information architecture and knowledge management.

Rosenberg runs the shop with his wife, Gwen.

“My wife is an amazing cook,” Rosenberg said. “And downtown was growing, so we saw the opportunity.”

Caramel and sea salt popcorn is their best seller, Rosenberg said. His wife prepares new popcorn recipes every day and has expanded the business to now feature her homemade chocolate.

The newest menu item features milk chocolate, shaped like an acorn for Kent, filled with peanut butter, marshmallow, caramel or coconut topped with a peanut cluster.

“It’s our take on a chocolate buckeye,” Rosenberg said.

Rosenberg has four children and plans for Popped to become a family business down the road.

Popped gourmet popcorn is also available at Zephyr Pub, 101 Bottles of Beer on the Wall and the Akron Art Museum.

In addition to gourmet popcorn shop owners, Kent bar owners have graduated from the university.

Mike Beder, a 2001 Kent State general studies graduate, is part-owner of Water Street Tavern, Tree City Coffee & Pastry and Venice Cafe.

After graduation, Beder acquired a liqor license, which kept him rooted in the city. Beder said he sees new opportunities in Kent every day.

“New faces are constantly turning 21, and a good portion of my audience is continually moving on,” Beder said. “The City of Kent has a constant stream of new energy and ideas.”

Beder said his co-workers have become his extended family, including Evan Bailey, a Kent State journalism and mass communication associate professor, who is also part-owner of Tree City Coffee & Pastry.

Bailey received his bachelor’s degree in advertising from Kent State in 2003 and his master’s degree in media management from the university in 2008. He became involved with Tree City Coffee & Pastry in January 2012.

“I stayed in the area to work for the university,” Bailey said. “Because of the momentum downtown, it seemed like the right time for business and development.”

Despite all of the new business ventures, the city has also kept family business afloat. One of the oldest includes Kent Floral, which has been in the Mullenix family since 1909.

“Kent Floral adds a unique characteristic to the town by intertwining the community and the college together,” said Tisha Bogovich.

Bogovich graduated in 2001 from Kent State’s School of Business Administration with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. After graduation, Bogovich and her husband Jason decided to stay in Kent to be closer to the family business, located on South Water Street, and built their first home close by the flower shop.

Combined, these alumni-owned businesses represent the history and culture of the Kent community and make up the larger family Kent State graduates are all a part of.

Contact Gabrielle Martinez at [email protected].