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Tri-Town Weekly: Now frying in Freeport: Irresistible chips

January 20, 2016

By Larry Grard   lgrard@keepmecurrent.com

 

Less than five months after startup, a Freeport business dedicated to making a better potato chip with sunflower oil, Maine sea salt and local potatoes is growing.

 

Vintage Maine Kitchen, which is a production kitchen at 491 U.S. Route 1, is owned by Scott and Kelly Brodeur. The Brodeurs, who also live in Freeport, wanted a healthier chip for their 2-year-old daughter, Merrill, and they found one. Their chips – which include a regular salted and a unique maple variety – are made in small batches and sold mostly in 1.25-ounce bags.

 

The Brodeurs use two fryers, a slicing machine and a bag-sealing machine in their kitchen. They use about 700 pounds of potatoes a week, though during peak production in the summertime, Vintage Maine Kitchen can go through 1,500 pounds of potatoes a week.

 

Scott Brodeur, 44, and Kelly Brodeur, 38, moved to Maine from Massachusetts in 2006, and settled in Freeport in 2009. Scott Brodeur is an avid bicyclist and bike mechanic whose work experience includes eight years in various positions at L.L. Bean. Kelly Brodeur, following her graduation from Johnson & Wales University College of Culinary Arts, worked in food service operations and food safety compliance.

 

The Brodeurs answered questions regarding Vintage Maine Kitchen for the Tri-Town Weekly.

 

Q: There are lots of potato chips on the market. What gave you the idea you could make a go of this?

 

Kelly: Like most New Englanders, we grew up eating fresh, locally made chips. Scott and I have always talked about how much we missed them and how other chips just don't deliver that nostalgic flavor we're looking for. We've talked about starting up a family chipper business for over a decade and really decided to make a go of it last year when our daughter was about 18 months old. They say sleep deprivation makes you do crazy things. The trend of bringing back small-batch, nostalgic flavors and techniques has been working for everything from doughnuts to distilling, so why not chips? We also worked with CEI (Coastal Enterprises, Inc) to hash out our ideas, turn them into a business plan and then into a reality.

 

Q: How is business going? Who sells your chips?

 

Scott: So far business is great. We're appreciative of the response we've received from other small business owners and managers that were willing to give us a shot on the shelves. It helps that the chips are irresistible, but we count on the local markets, cafes and sandwich shops to get them to customers. Bow Street Market was our first customer and they continue to support our business by being a test market for our larger bag sizes. They also do great in lunch spots like Desrosiers, Aurora Provisions, C Salt and 1912 Cafe at L.L. Bean. Natural foods markets like Royal River, Morning Glory, Lois' Natural Marketplace and The Portland Food Co-op have also been really supportive. The best place to keep track of new locations is on our Facebook page.

 

Q: Can you describe the process? How long is the day, and how many days a week?

 

Kelly: The process is simple. We wash and slice the chips, fry them in non-GMO sunflower oil and season them by hand. Our chips are packaged by hand. as well. We do all this with the help of one star employee, Ben Murphy. We currently work a four-day production week, leaving weekends for demos, events and family time.

 

Q: What makes Vintage Maine Kitchen potato chips better?

 

Scott: What makes Vintage Maine Kitchen chips better is the premium, locally sourced ingredients. We use Maine potatoes, Maine sea salt and Maine maple sugar in our chips. The farmers do all the work for us. They grow a great tasting potato. We let it shine.

 

Q: Where do you get your potatoes, and what variety do you use?

 

Kelly: We get our potatoes from Bell Farms in Auburn. We use Norwis and Keuka Gold varieties. Ray and David Bell have a rich knowledge of potatoes and chipper history that has been beneficial to us along the way. Their team gives us great service and we're pleased to be doing business with them.

 

Q: How did you come up with the idea of a maple chip?

 

Scott: The maple chip was born early on. We didn't want to make chips just to make them. We want it to be about local food. There's nothing more Maine than maple. Maple is more than an ingredient, it's a culture. True Maine maple sugar offers such a subtle sweetness that it works perfectly to create a salty, sweet and savory snack.

 

Q: Any more varieties in mind?

 

Kelly: We are working on more flavors and larger pack sizes. We will continue our practices of working with local growers and producers to develop our future flavors. We encourage people to send us their Maine flavor ideas on Facebook or via email. Chips@VintageMaineKitchen.com.

By Kathleen Pierce, BDN Staff

 

FREEPORT, Maine — A hot mound of golden brown potato chips rests seductively on a baking sheet. With a deft flick of the wrist Scott Brodeur sprinkles on maple sugar. A hissing sound fills the air.

Is this a snack addict’s hallucination? Not at all. It’s just another day of production at Vintage Maine Kitchen, a small-batch potato chip company that turns Maine potatoes, Maine sea salt and Maine maple syrup into farm-to-pouch gold.

“We wanted food coming from a single source,” co-owner Brodeur, a burly man in a Red Sox cap, said. “We produce chips the old-fashioned way.”

Inside a nondescript storefront on Route 1, Brodeur grabs fistfulls of sliced potatoes grown nearby and drops them into a bubbling vat of sunflower oil. He separates the floating spuds with tongs. Moments later they transform into chips.

“Some of the potatoes we get from Bell Farms really taste like butter,” his wife and business partner, Kelly Brodeur, said. “So we try to keep that flavor in the chip.”

Generations of Mainers grew up on Humpty Dumpty Potato Chips, founded in South Portland in the ’40s. For this couple, who moved here from Massachusetts in 2007, it was Royal Feast, a now-defunct Methuen chip maker that was an early favorite.

Once settled in Freeport and after giving birth to their daughter Merrill, “we wanted to bring back the tradition of a family chipper,” Kelly Brodeur said.

Vintage Maine Kitchen is the latest small food company to find success by doing it their way. Self-taught, self-motivated and self-fulfilled, these startups are popping up all across Maine.

With a degree from Johnson and Wales University, Kelly Brodeur worked in a string of restaurants from Lowell, Massachusetts, to Galway, Ireland. She has always loved potatoes. Her husband, who has cooked in his share of hotels and bars, does too. Before launching Vintage Maine Kitchen last summer, Kelly Brodeur tried different cooking methods with a Dutch oven at home.

“It came down to using the right potato,” she said, standing over sacks of spuds grown in Lewiston, Auburn and neighboring Durham. Turns out Bell Farms’ Norwis and Keuka Gold are the winners.

So far the company has two flavors: original and the sweet and savory Maine maple. “Mainers love maple,” Scott Brodeur, who has yet to see another maple chip made here, said.

Unlike Cape Cod Potato Chips’ thick kettle-style, Vintage Maine Kitchen chips are thin and crisp. Starting with a local potato, few ingredients follow: sunflower oil and salt, or maple sugar for Maine maple. “Our chips are as healthy as you can get. It’s not processed food,” she said. “It’s as simple as it gets.”

How did the couple know reclaiming the potato chip would work?

“From the look on the faces of customers after they try it,” Scott Brodeur, who worked for years at L.L. Bean in distribution and manufacturing, said.

So far the chips are sold in Freeport shops and specialty food stores, including Lois’ Natural Marketplace in Portland and Scarborough. They can be found a far north as Center Coffee House in Dover-Foxcroft and as far south as The Noshery in Amesbury, Massachusetts. They also ship all over the U.S.

“Business is doubling every month, and we can make about 120 cases a week with our current staffing,” Kelly Brodeur said. “We plan to double that again soon.”

They are sold in single-serving bags because they are “so addictive,” Scott Brodeur said, one of three people who bag each batch by hand.

For now, the couple is ramping up for the summer tourist season.

“We want these chips served by the side of every lobster roll,” Kelly Brodeur said. “It’s the perfect combination.”

National Sunflower Association's Sunflower Magzine's November 2015

Vintage Maine Kitchen Potato Chips

There’s no doubt when a couple has a baby their lives change forever. For one Maine couple, the birth of their daughter prompted them to start a new business. And while the company is only a few months old, founders and co-owners Scott and Kelly Brodeur say the company, Vintage Maine Kitchen Potato Chips, is quickly becoming their second child. They’re working hard to make their potato chips the best around — and sunflower oil is playing a key role in their success.

Jody Kerzman visited with Kelly Brodeur about Vintage Maine Kitchen Potato Chips.

Explain the idea behind Vintage Maine Kitchen Potato Chips.
We wanted to bring back a flavor from our childhood. We used to be able to go to regional chip shops here in New England and pick up fresh chips when we were kids. Most of those regional chippers have closed across New England, leaving us without the chips we remembered. 

I was trained in Culinary Arts at Johnson and Wales University, and I’ve worked in and around food production for a number of years. Most recently, I was an assistant manager at a local market in Freeport, Maine, and a large part of my job was to oversee the buying of local products and working with local vendors. I also spent a number of years working in the kitchen as well as working as a food safety inspector. 

With my professional training, and my personal values and ethics, I’ve always been a conscious consumer; but the birth of my daughter, Merrill, two years ago really heightened my concern about what we eat and how our food is produced. Like all kids, Merrill loves chips! I started looking for a healthy snack for Merrill, preferably one that was locally produced with fresh, natural ingredients. Every natural chip I tried was just “meh.” 

I knew that I could do it better, and so I began shopping for the best local ingredients, and experimenting in my kitchen. Merrill and my husband, Scott, were delighted to be my testers. With each attempt, I learned more and more about what worked, and what didn’t. After months of such attempts, it all happened: I landed on the right potato, the right preparation, the right cooking process, and the right seasoning. I shared subsequent batches with some of my friends, and the verdict was clear, and Vintage Maine Kitchen was born. 

Why did you choose sunflower oil?
We tried a number of different oils. Our goal was to find something that didn’t mask the taste of the potato. Sunflower oil was the perfect match for that reason. We also wanted to have transparency in our ingredients. We wanted to use food that people understand; sunflower is a crop people understand. And while we were at it, we wanted to use an oil that wouldn’t cause concerns for people with allergies. 

Sunflower oil was the only oil that fit all our criteria. We believe sunflower oil is the finest of the vegetable oils. It’s high in mono-unsaturated fats, but is stable and neutral tasting and is high in vitamin E — and it’s heart healthy, too. We use the highest-grade oil to bring out the flavor of the potato without leaving a greasy mouth feel.

Where do you get the sunflower oil you use? 
We purchase our sunflower oil from US Foods. The oil we buy is from U.S.-grown sunflower, which is very important to us. 

What makes Vintage Maine Kitchen Potato Chips stand out?
Our chips are local, fresh, natural and simple. We only use four ingredients: potatoes (grown right here in Maine), sunflower oil, sea salt (also from Maine) and Maine maple sugar (from, you guessed it, Maine!). Customers like how thin our chips are. They have a great texture; our chips don’t scrape your mouth. It’s a nice crisp potato chip without being too crunchy. People rave about being able to taste the potato, which we know is thanks to the sunflower oil. 

We are a small company (we have just four employees, and that includes my husband, Scott, and me), and we make our chips in small batches. That means we can make sure that each potato is handled carefully and sliced, fried, seasoned and bagged in a very short amount of time. That’s how we can offer the freshest chip on the market. 

We are very environmentally responsible. Instead of trucking potatoes across the country, we use locally grown potatoes, and our used sunflower oil is being processed into biodiesel.

Approximately how much sunflower oil do you use per year? 
We have only been open for a few months, [so] it would be hard to give you any numbers at this point. I can tell you that we use a LOT of sunflower oil and hope to be using even more as our business grows.

Where can your chips be purchased?
Our chips are sold in specialty food markets and sandwich shops throughout Maine. We just picked up more stores in New England, and our chips will be in stores in New Hampshire and Massachusetts very soon. 

We know there is a whole customer base, though, that is not in New England, so we make our products available for purchase on our website: www.vintagemainekitchen.com. There’s also information there for people interested in buying wholesale.

What is your customers’ perception of sunflower oil?
Everybody is curious about what kind of oil we use. Our customers are really curious about what’s in their food, so they’re reading labels and asking questions. They are generally excited that it is sunflower oil because everyone knows what a sunflower is. There’s no question about the plant that the oil came from. Then, once they taste the chips, they’re sold on our product.

Are there any new offerings or products?
Right now we just offer two flavors of chips: ordinary, called that because they are the simplest chips we make, but our customers tell us they are extraordinary! Fresh Maine potatoes, sliced thin and fried in high-oleic sunflower oil, then dusted with just the right amount of Maine Natural Sea Salt. We also make Maine Maple Potato Chips, which are chips with Maine maple sugar. They offer a very subtle salty sweet flavor. 

We do plan on offering more flavors, but there are none to announce just yet. We are doing lots of research on other flavors. We plan to continue the trend of having Maine flavors and using more Maine products. 

What does the future hold for your company? New products? New promotions or marketing strategies?
We would like to keep this business going for many more years. Our ultimate goal is to just get bigger. Right now we have just four employees, and two of us are the owners! We’d love to get big enough to provide jobs to more people. 

Are you doing advertising, PR, social media or grassroots efforts to promote your product? If yes, what?
We have found a lot of success through social media. Our Facebook page does well, and we are trying to grow our Twitter account.

Plus, our website is a great place to go to learn about us and to order your Maine Potato Chips. 

Maine chips put emphasis on flavor

A new company called Vintage Maine Kitchen is making small-batch chips with local potatoes in regular and maple flavors

 

I placed four small bags of potato chips on the checkout counter, and before I could even get money out to pay for them the cashier said, “Oh, I love these chips.”

 

I asked why, and he said it’s because they have a strong potato flavor. They remind him of thick potato sticks.

“And they’re made in Maine,” he added. “You can’t beat that.”

 

We were talking about a brand new potato chip from a fledgling company called Vintage Maine Kitchen. Based in Freeport, the company was founded by Kelly Brodeur, a culinary arts graduate of Johnson & Wales, who was inspired by her 2-year-old daughter, Merrill – a big potato chip fan – to develop a chip made from Maine potatoes that contains no MSG or other ingredients found in processed foods.

 

“Our brand is all about full-circle food, where what’s old is new again,” she said, “and we’re just bringing it back to when people made food with real food.”

 

Brodeur believes that potato chips have become a “throw-away food” – the consolation prize that comes with your sandwich or lobster roll instead of a delicious food in its own right. The bag of chips that sits by your Reuben is often saved for later, or might even be tossed in the trash.

 

She wants to change that. She uses only Maine potatoes in her chips and hand slices them in her production facility in Freeport. The chips are fried in sunflower oil and flavored with Maine sea salt. That cashier was right – they do have a strong potato flavor. And they don’t leave streaks of grease on your hands like mass-produced chips.

 

Brodeur also offers a Maine maple flavor, made with real Maine maple sugar, that could be called the kettle corn of potato chips. They have an appealing, subtle sweetness that doesn’t hit you over the head.

 

Both chips cost $2 per 1.25-ounce bag in stores. You can also buy them online.

 

Brodeur’s chips are in 15 locations now, including DeRosier’s Market, Royal River Natural Foods, the Salty Lobster, Bow Street Market, the 1912 Cafe at L.L. Bean and the Maine Beer Co. in Freeport. In Portland, find them at Aurora Provisions, the Portland Food Co-op, and Lois’ Natural Marketplace. In Brunswick, they’re at Morning Glory Natural Foods and the Bowdoin College Convenience Store.

 

The No. 1 question Brodeur says she is asked these days: “When are you going to make larger bags?”

 

— MEREDITH GOAD

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