Milwaukee Chip Company Uses Local Wisconsin Potatoes

Published online: Mar 31, 2021 Articles Carol Deptolla
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Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

When Michael Moeller decided in 2019 that he wanted locally made potato chips for  Milwaukee, he had no idea just how local they could be.

"I didn’t realize I could use a local potato," said the Riverwest resident, who founded Milwaukee Chip Co. last year and rolled out the first chips for sale a few weeks ago. 

In early March, Moeller made his first sales and deliveries to two businesses that carry Milwaukee Chip: Nice Sandwich, 2705 S. 108th St., West Allis, and Black Husky Brewing, 909 E. Locust St. in Riverwest.

"That’s my neighborhood brewery; I ride my bike over there," Moeller said.

Milwaukee Chip's suggested price is $2 for each bag holding 1.25 ounces, enough thin, golden-brown chips for a snack with a beer, or beside a sandwich.

All Roads Lead to Russet

In Moeller's research leading up to starting the company in 2020, he found Wisconsin among the country's five top potato-producing states. 

"I think I called … about every potato farm in the state with a list of questions," he said, and found his match in fourth-generation grower Okray Family Farms in Plover, a drive of two-plus hours northwest of Milwaukee that Moeller makes to pick up his potatoes.

"Those guys have the kind of potato I like," a russet, he said, rather than the more commonly used white-skinned potato.

"Most people don’t use a russet potato" to make chips, Moeller said. "It’s more difficult to cook correctly, but the reward is worth it." He said he finds the russet chips color well and "hits on a savory note instead of just salty." 

They're all things he learned after doing his research, and then more research, and then some more.

"I literally spent the summer reading academic articles" about potatoes, Moeller said.

He'd started by forming his limited liability company with the state in March 2020 and with a logo he liked for his potato chip bags to set the company's local identity, conceived by him and designed by Good Land Creative: a potato, three chips fluttering below it, that evokes the lake sunrise on the People's Flag of Milwaukee.

"I wanted a logo that clearly and concisely said Milwaukee and potato chips," Moeller said.

Then he launched into research and development: investigating which licenses he needed and which regulations he'd have to follow, testing every potato he could get hold of, slicing potatoes with a dangerously sharp mandoline, then frying and seasoning them.

"I probably made a thousand types of potato chips in 2020," Moeller said.

And he found the one he could bank his new business on.

"I’m not going to say it’s an easy process, but compared to the other food businesses out there, it’s relatively simple," Moeller said. He could isolate the variables — the kind of potato, which seasonings and how much — and try every possibility.

Next was finding a licensed commercial kitchen to make the chips for sale, and outfitting it with a less hazardous potato slicer; Moeller works with one employee at Upstart Kitchen, 4323 W. Fond du Lac Ave., which rents space to dozens of entrepreneurs.

Along the way, he's navigated state regulations and U.S. Food and Drug Administration requirements, including nutrition information, shelf life and the ingredient list — his company is considered a food processing plant — as well as storage, packaging and distribution. 

"I just had to dive right into the nuts and bolts of all this," Moeller said.

He's worked about a decade in food and food service, he said, from flipping burgers and waiting tables to management; most recently, he's worked at the corporate end, with specialty food distributors. he's worked with others on their new businesses, but this is the first that's his alone.

In January, two area restaurants and a salsa maker started packaging their own brand of chips, Champion Chips, to sell at their businesses: the Soup Market in Milwaukee and Hales Corners, Peanut Butter & Jelly Deli in West Allis and the in-the-works Mama's Boy Salsa shop in Cudahy. The flavored chips so far aren't distributed more widely.

For now, Moeller sells his chips only wholesale to businesses, although he's exploring direct sales. He does expect more outlets in the coming months to add to Black Husky and Nice Sandwich — a shop he found on Instagram and thought, "This is exactly the kind of sandwich I want my chips next to" when he saw the photos. Milwaukee Chip itself is on Instagram and Facebook, at @mkechips.

He distributes his chips once a week, on Friday mornings. So far, they've been selling out after just a few days, Moeller said, and he's looking ahead to ramping up production.

"I’m hoping to do just one thing for the rest of my life, making potato chips," he said.