50 for 50: Cary Hoffman

Published online: Dec 14, 2021 50 for 50, Articles, Grower of the Month
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Throughout 2021, as part of Potato Grower’s celebration of our 50th year in publication, we will be honoring in our pages and on our website 50 of the potato industry’s most innovative and influential individuals, companies and organizations over the past half-century. This “50 for 50” series will include researchers, salesmen, packers, processors and, of course, plenty of potato growers. A lot of them will be names you’ve heard before. To some, you’ll get a fresh introduction. Regardless, each has had an outsize impact on the U.S. potato industry, and each deserves our thanks and recognition. To view the full roster of “50 for 50” honorees, click here. 
This article appears in the December 2021 issue of Potato Grower

Legend has it that upon arriving in the port city of Galveston, Texas, newly minted American Hymie Hoffman saw some loose, overripe bananas on the docks about to be thrown out. The intrepid young immigrant asked the captain of the ship the bananas had come in on if he could have them. He left the docks with his supply and started pushing a cart up and down the streets of Galveston, selling bananas.

“Today, we sell everything from A to Z, from asparagus to zucchini squash,” says Hymie’s grandson Cary, who owns and operates MountainKing Potatoes. “Our customers include grocery stores, restaurants, country clubs, hotels, hospitals, all types of foodservice. If it’s a fresh fruit or vegetable that people consume, we probably sell it. But our biggest thing is potatoes.”

In 1973, Hoffman purchased a produce company on Houston’s Produce Row and began what has become an illustrious career as a wholesaler. In 1985, a neighbor on Produce Row was looking to sell his potato distribution business. Hoffman bought the facility and became a potato salesman. In the beginning, the foundation of the potato business was rooted in traditional russet potatoes. But as the ’80s transitioned into the ’90s, MountainKing began hearing from some its restaurant customers about newfangled potatoes with yellow flesh. The problem was, those chefs wanted more yellow potatoes than were currently on the market. None of MountainKing’s contracted growers, most of them in Colorado’s San Luis Valley, had ever grown anything but russet varieties. The company was not in the business of farming, but in a matter of a couple years, found itself growing Colorado’s first yellow potatoes for the fresh market.

“That first harvest, we yielded more Yukon Golds than we knew what to do with,” says Hoffman. “The chefs who were wanting them didn’t want that many.”

So MountainKing reached out to grocery store chains, first in Texas, then expanded distribution from its home base. Today, the company is a premier distributor of yellows, with its Butter Gold- and Butter Red-branded potatoes in grocery stores across the country. MountainKing’s 10,000 acres of farmland in Colorado now produce yellow, red, fingerling and creamer varieties; it contracts other growers in Colorado, Kansas and West Texas to fill its needs for russets, reds and round whites. 

“What we’ve learned,” says Hoffman, “is that if you have something with a different taste and flavor—and if you can grow it commercially and make it affordable, your customers will buy it.”