In just a few years, a Clark County couple went from making homemade potato chips on their kitchen counter to distributing thousands of bags to some of the largest grocery chains in Ohio.
The success of Rue Farms Rustic Potato Chips is particularly surprising because until December 2012, owners Matt and Jeanne Rue, of Springfield, rarely ever ate potato chips. But they felt bad after their daughter bought them a deep fryer for Christmas that year, and made a small batch just to find some use for the appliance.
Now, the company sells its locally-made, kettle-cooked chips at grocers like Whole Foods, Kroger and Jungle Jim’s, as well as numerous smaller stores statewide, including the gift shop at the Ohio Statehouse.
They credit much of their success to the fact that they tweaked every recipe and flavor until they knew it was right.
“We made them the way we want to eat them,” Matt Rue said.
It took about a month before Matt Rue was able to convince his wife to make a small batch to sell at the online farmer’s market in Champaign County, where they had already sold baked goods like bread and cookies. When the first three orders sold, it was so unexpected that they didn’t have bags to sell them in and had to use bread bags and twist ties.
Before long, they had doubled their capacity and bought a second deep fryer, and then a 40-lb. fryer.
To prepare for an upcoming Yellow Springs Street Fair, they bought 1,000 pounds of potatoes from Michael Farms in Urbana, peeled them all by hand and spent 8 to 12 hours each day frying enough to last through the weekend. But they sold out the first day.
The street fair was also where they were approached by health officials and told if they wanted to continue making chips in bulk, they needed to do so in an FDA-approved facility.
“We got slapped on the wrist and thrown into the potato chip industry,” Matt Rue said.
They eventually rented a facility in Dayton owned by Mikesell’s Potato Chip Company, where they still watch over each batch they make. They got their first business partner when the owners of the Yellow Springs Brewery asked to sell the chips in that business, and it took off from there.
The couple has had several businesses in the past, including catering, farming and running a volleyball camp, but the new business has taken over. They do their own accounting, delivery and marketing, and only this year hired two interns and a part-time office manager. They sold their cows last year.
“It’s basically turned into all we’re doing is potato chips,” Matt Rue said.
After selling to smaller grocers around the region, they eventually got picked up by larger chains, including a 15-minute interview with Whole Foods they described as an “American Idol”-style elimination process to pick the best local food producers. They expect to have their products in all Whole Foods stores in Ohio later this year, and even sell bags at the Ohio Statehouse.
“They don’t buy a lot, but at least you can say you’re in the Statehouse,” Matt Rue said.
All of the chips still come from potatoes grown at Michael Farms and are made using non-genetically modified oils and gluten-free herbs and spices.
They credit their daughter for coming up with the four basic flavors, including dill herb and pink Himalayan salt.
Eventually they’d like to sell the chips in neighboring states, then nationally. But they never expected to start a business with their deep fryer.
“We wake up every morning thinking, ‘Are we really hocking chips?’ ” Jeanne Rue joked.