I had no idea that the country’s favorite snack was likely gown here. We have four of the best brands in the country to make your favorite Michigan potato chip. Here is how each came to being.
Credit for the creation of the potato chip that we love today goes to an African American chef. George Crum was a chef at the Moon’s Lake Lodge in Saratoga Springs, New York. In 1853 Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt was on vacation at the lodge and sent back his fried potatoes complaining they were too thick, soggy, and not crunchy enough. Crum cut them into paper-thin slices, deep-fried, and salted the thin potato creation as a take Vanderbilt’s request to the extreme. The new potato crisps became an instant success, and the restaurant became well known for them. Crum’s chips were initially called Saratoga Chips and potato crunches.
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Michigan Farmers Lead in Potato Chip Varieties
I found an impressive set of factoids; Michigan is the nation’s leading producer of potatoes for making potato chips. Michigan State University’s scientists and researchers created many of the potato varieties used for making potato chips.
In 2017 Michigan potato farms produced more than 1.8 billion pounds of potatoes. Michigan potatoes account for 25 percent of the chips consumed in the U.S., which is every one in four bags of chips!
Better Made Potato Chips – @BetterMade
At age 15, a young man came to America from Sicily just prior to World War I. In the 1920s, Peter Cipriano’s family would buy potatoes from the produce market on Gratiot Ave in Detroit. They would hand-cook the chips at home and then sell out of a back of a truck at the famous Detroit Island Park of Belle Isle for 5 cents a bag. Of all the small Detroit potato chip companies operating in the 1920s, Better Made was the sole survivor through the Great Depression.
Better Made potato chip company was founded on August 1st, 1930, and incorporated in 1934 by the founders, Peter Cipriano and Cross Moceri. Better Made’s over 85 years of snack food making have all been made in Detroit, using Michigan potatoes for ten months of the year.
Starting as a storefront in 1945, they expanded the factory 19 times to its current size, over 15,000 square feet. They added barbecue flavor in the mid-1960s and then sour cream and onion to go with the original. All three are best sellers from a list of 20 flavors. Until 1994, Better Made’s market was strictly metro Detroit.
Uncle Ray’s Potato Chips – @UncleRaysWay
Ray Jenkins worked in a Detroit auto plant in 1965. With a growing family, he decided to go into the potato chip business.
Ray made his own chip dips, popcorn, and shrimp cocktail sauce at night and early morning then sold to local bars and Detroit stores during the day. He started expanding with his first plant in Dearborn, Michigan under the name “Cabana Foods”. Over the next 30 years, the company’s sold to customers in Detroit, greater Michigan, and the Midwest. in the 1980s they acquired the assets of the defunct Superior Potato Chip company in Detroit.
H T Hackney of Knoxville, Tenn bought Uncle Rays in 2006 and the company greatly expanded from its warehouse in Grand Rapids. While Michigan remains its focus market Uncle Ray has extended itself to serve the east coast and south. 80% of the 75 million pounds of potatoes the company processes are from Michigan.
Uncle Rays are the official chip of Minor League Baseball.
Great Lakes Potato Chips – @GreatLakesChips
With seven flavors, their method of cooking with the skins on and cooking in sunflower oil adds extra crunch to the chips. All are kettle-cooked.
Great Lakes Potato Chip Co. was started in Traverse City in 2010, by the father and son team of Ed and Chris Girrbach. They made $80,000 the first year and never looked back. Great Lakes Potato Chip is one of the fastest-growing private companies in America and included in the Inc. 5000, an annual ranking The chip company gets almost 95 percent of its potatoes from Sackett Farms in Mecosta County.
In 2016 Great Lakes Potato Chips took a gold medal for its original kettle-cooked potato chip at the annual New York Chips Festival in Saratoga Springs.
Downey’s Chips – @DowneysChips
Since 1984 this little potato chip company Downey’s Potato Chips has been producing its famous kettle chips in Waterford Michigan.
Unlike most kettle chips this unique chip is light and has a great flavor from its peanut oil blend. They use locally grown Michigan potatoes and are cooked and hand-seasoned daily. Hard to find. Look for them in gourmet groceries like Vince and Joe’s in Shelby Township. If you’re near Waterford you can stop in their retail store and purchase their slightly burned chips in bulk.
Related Michigan Potato Chip and Food Stories
We ventured out in an early snowy weekend afternoon with friends to the Shipwreck Distillery just outside of Caseville. We had heard that this shop had opened in 2018 but failed to venture over to check it out. Yeah…we missed out. Now that we know about this little gem we have some catching up to do. A New Michigan Distillery to Savor in the Thumb
This is a quick savory hearty main course soup that is perfect for a camp lunch. The potential variations are endless. It’s easy to prepare and this dill pickle soup seems to taste even better the next day. We picked Vlasic dills as they are locally grown and processed in Imlay City. Dill Pickle Soup – Warm and Savory
In our effort to be eclectic we offer these five outstanding, yet typically overlooked, Michigan food companies each with their specialties that are not to be missed. The Most Tasty Yet Overlooked Food Brands in Michigan (Pay Attention)
OK, technically Vlasic Pickles, located in Imlay City, is at the extreme southern portion of the Thumb. Area growers supply cucumbers for America’s #1 pickle and scores of workers work at the plant and distribution. What is Michigan’s Favorite Pickle? – No Surprise Here
7 thoughts on “4 of the Best Michigan Potato Chip Companies”
Interesting fact about Michigan. I knew they were great for apples and Christmas trees but had no idea potato chips too. Since potato chips is my greatest weakness (can’t open a bag without eating it all) I will have to check out these companies.
Downey is my favorite and likely the hardest to find as its very local. I grew up in the same township where Downey Chips are still made today. We had a big tin which we brought in to the shop and filled up. I may do a follow up post on the Downey plant down the road. Thanks for your comments.
Those potatoe chips must be good.
I prefer the Downey’s
Really? Oh wow!!!!
Nick’s (based in Warren) has some damn good potato chips. Their “Sizzlin’ Hot Cheddar Ripple Potato Chips” r TASTY (albeit milder than their label indic8s). W/that said, I prefer the NSA (No Salt Added) varieties from Better Made & Downey’s; if Nick’s had a NSA version of their chips; u beat believe that I’d stock up on them.
Be-Mo potato chips from Kalamazoo were to die for!