Deli, Food Artisans, Good Food

Yup, We Finally Did It: Introducing Zingerman’s Potato Chips!

At last, we have our own chips! What took us so long? Quite honestly, we don’t know, but, we think the chips we’re now making—with the help of two great companies—were worth the wait.

The project first began last year, almost by accident. The holiday months are traditionally the time when Co-Managing Partner and Deli Chef Rodger Bowser retreats to the kitchen. “It’s kind of nice,” he explains. “There are fewer meetings—and just less stuff to do—and October through December is my favorite time of year to cook because fall foods are the best.” It was during one of those sessions that he got the idea to make small batches of chips as a weekend special. He figured it’d be a good way to sample the Épices de Cru spices that the Deli sells.

“We’ve been working with Épices de Cru for a long time. They’re very exciting, and their spices are exciting,” says Rodger. Not too surprisingly, the spices from the Montreal-based company, which sources their world-class products from all over the globe, tasted great on the freshly made chips. That got him thinking about making them a regular menu item, but the time and process required to make chips in-house on a daily basis didn’t seem feasible.

“I thought, ‘I don’t want to fry chips. There’s got to be someone who’s way better at this than me that I could get the spices to,” he says. Suddenly, he realized what the Deli shelves were missing: Zingerman’s brand potato chips! It was what he calls “an ah-ha moment.”

Photo by Ryan Stiner

The first thing he did was cold call Great Lakes Potato Chip Company, a family-owned business from Traverse City, Michigan, that he was eager to work with. They were very receptive. “The owner, Chris Girrbach, said, ‘This is a no brainer. We’re kind of wondering why you didn’t call earlier.’ The conversation was a slam dunk,” says Rodger, who loves what Great Lakes Potato Chip Company is doing and that they’re using Michigan potatoes. “They’re making a great skin-on potato chip. The flavor’s great, the crunch is nice.”

When he mentioned the idea to Ari and fellow Managing Partners in the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, his enthusiasm was matched. “We were off and running. Now I had to figure out how to get the product to market,” he says, laughing.

He began testing different flavors with Great Lakes, sending them the Épices de Cru spices, which he felt were an absolute must for the chips he wanted to produce. They experimented with 20 different varieties over a few months and settled on three crowd-pleasers to start production: French Grey Sea Salt, Barbecue, and Tellicherry Black Pepper. They discovered some unexpected flavors that worked well, too, and Rodger is planning a few special edition runs that could include Trinidad curry, Spanish paprika (he’s the most excited about this one) and maybe even a chip that tastes like Zingerman’s famous pickles.

Photo by Ryan Stiner

After some serious number crunching, countless spreadsheets, and finding a great distributor (Cherry Capital Foods, another company that Rodger admires, got the gig), the next step was creating the great packaging that Zingerman’s is known for to pull the project together. Staff illustrator Ryan Stiner created a fun depiction of the Deli for the new bags. “I was really excited to get to work on this project – potato chips are one of my favorite foods! I knew I wanted to create something iconic – so that whenever and wherever you saw these bags you’d know where they came from and the quality they stood for. I quickly realized that the deli building looks pretty similar to a bag of chips and the design just kind of came together from there.”

Rodger says Zingerman’s Potato Chips are a true collaboration of excellence. “It’s a trifecta: Zingerman’s recipes, Great Lakes Potato Chip Company, and Epices de Cru spices. Three is the magic number.”

Zingerman’s Chips are available at the Deli, Bakehouse, and Roadhouse. Also, you can get them in your Zingerman’s Catering Bag Lunches.