Charlie Ryan grew up in Springfield and likes Mikesell’s chips and pretzels in part because they remind him of his childhood.

Ohio is potato chip country

By Mike Ryan, OCJ Field Reporter

Ohio has been a major player in the potato chip industry as long as there have been potato chips. It was in Cleveland in 1895 that William Tappenden built the first potato chip factory in the country, turning a barn in his backyard into a factory and delivering his fresh product in barrels to local markets by horse-drawn carriage. Today, although Ohio accounts for only a very small portion of this nation’s potato harvest, the Buckeye State ranks second only to Pennsylvania in potato chip production. 

America’s favorite snack food is produced in Ohio for companies with nationwide distribution like Herr’s and Frito-Lay, which have operating plants here, and long-time Ohio chip maker Shearer’s has recently transitioned to exclusively wholesale manufacturing and private label sales. In addition to these larger nationwide corporations, there are a number of superb regional potato chip companies scattered throughout the state that garner a faithful following of customers loyal to their local brand.  

In Dayton, Mikesell’s holds the distinction as the oldest potato chip company in the country. Founder Daniel W. Mikesell began selling chips in 1910 as an addition to his dried beef and sausage operation that was run out of a two room shop on South Williams Street. Now, with production facilities in Dayton and Indianapolis and distribution throughout Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois, Mikesell’s remains an important brand in snack foods, offering chips in a variety of flavors, like their distinctive Good N Hot and Smoked Bacon options.  

Charlie Ryan grew up in Springfield and likes Mikesell’s chips and pretzels in part because they remind him of his childhood and old family lore.

“I’ve been eating potato chips since 1952 and Mikesell’s was always around when I was a kid. It was our local potato chip company,” Charlie said as he crunched on a pretzel rod. “In fact, about the same time Mikesell’s was founded in the early 1900s, there were a lot of start-up snack food companies popping up in Ohio. Just up the road from Mikesell’s in Springfield, my grandfather, Herbert Walter Eakins, and his uncle, owned the Long-Eakins Company, which manufactured and sold potato chips and ‘Crispette’ makers — the kind that got many a mom-and-pop snack food business started back in the day.”   

Tiffin’s hometown chip company, Ballreich’s Potato Chips has been in business since 1920, when Fred and Ethel Ballreich started their enterprise in a dirt floor garage on Ohio Street. They specialize in “marcelled” potato chips — a wavy chip named after a women’s hairstyle of the 1920s. Today, the company offers a variety of chip flavors such as Marcelled Original, Smoked Cheddar and Onion, and Sweet Thai Chili. They also produce other snacks such as pretzels. For many Ohio potato chip enthusiasts, there is no better chip on the planet than their Marcelled Original.

Amy Osborne, of Reno, Nevada, was raised in northwest Ohio and still has a hankering for this excellent potato chip. Whenever she visits the area, she hopes to get ahold of some Ballreich’s chips. They remind her of her childhood and of people and businesses near and dear that are now long gone.

“Ballreich’s was the closest we could get to our beloved Tasty Taters Potato Chips that were produced in Findlay where my grandmother lived,” she said. “They were sold in large tin cans and you could take them to the factory to be refilled.”

Osborn’s mouth starts watering just thinking about the combination of near translucence and buttery saltiness of Tasty Taters that is closely recreated by Ballreich’s.

Dave Reese, of Mount Cory, is always on the hunt for the perfect Ohio potato chip, and like Osborne, also has a great affinity for the fabled Tasty Taters chip of yesteryear. He has settled on JR’S Taters as the closest approximation of this legendary Ohio potato chip.  

“I have always been a big fan of Tasty Taters. A local company named JR’S Taters opened in 2019 in Findlay where Tasty Taters were made and they’ve got the old Tasty Taters recipe and have succeeded in recreating that old Tasty Taters flavor. I especially like their rippled Dippers chips,” Reese said.

Mrs. Ida Conn founded Conn’s Potato Chips in 1935 and the Zanesville-based company is still going strong today. Their dominant market of southeastern, central, and northern Ohio has a strong and loyal consumer base for their decadently flavored chips. Their Original Wavy chip is very comparable to the Ballreich’s company’s signature chip. But what sets Conn’s apart are their flavored chip varieties, which have strong, bold flavors and the same excellent texture as their Wavy Originals. In the writer’s opinion, the Green Onion and Salt and Vinegar options are the best in Ohio. The Cinnamon and Sugar chip is another unique Conn’s offering.

Grippo’s is a Cincinnati area staple that was founded in 1919 by Angelo Grippo in what was originally his sugar cone factory. Grippo’s is the official chip of the Cincinnati Reds, the Cincinnati Bengals, University of Cincinnati Athletics, and the Columbus Blue Jackets, to name a few of their many partnerships. This company offers a variety of snack food options, from pork rinds, pretzels, and popcorn to several chip flavors such as Original, Salt and Vinegar, Sour Cream and Onion, and Maui Onion. But it is their BBQ flavored potato chip that is arguably their best known and most distinctive product. 

Nick Mitchum, of Versailles, Ky., grew up in central Ohio and ranks Grippo’s BBQ as his go-to potato chip.

“Watching the Bengals, throwing back a couple of beverages, and eating a giant bag — or box — of Grippo’s is a perfect Sunday. Fortunately, they have distribution here in Kentucky and I can get them at the local grocer. They are very sugary and salty, melt-in-your-mouth chips,” Mitchum said.

Jones’ Potato Chip Company of Mansfield distributes wavy chips in the flavors of Barbecue, Salt and Vinegar, Sour Cream and Onion, and Original. They also sell potato stix in a variety of flavors. The company was started by Frederick W. Jones in 1945. Jones was a potato chip distributor with no product to sell when his normal supplier was struggling to keep up with production. The solution came in two parts: Frederick’s supplier gave their blessing to form his own potato chip company and graciously provided much-needed experience, teaching Frederick how to produce excellent potato chips. Since this start, over 40 family members have worked for the Jones’ Potato Chip Company.

Northeastern Ohio is the kettle chip producing stronghold of the state. In Akron, Hartville Potato Chips specializes in small batch, kettle cooked chips; they also produce private label chips and offer fresh chip sales out of the business. Produced in Amish country, Beach City’s Corell’s Potato Chips has been around since the 1920s. Corell’s are also packaged under the label “Levi’s Choice” for distribution to Amish country tourists. Tuscarawas county is this kettle chip’s key distribution area, with availability as far north as Akron. Patrons can also buy chips fresh from the factory. Then, in Massillon, there is Gold N’ Krisp Potato Chips.

Founded in 1963 by O’Dell Gainey, Gold N’ Krisp has been family owned and operated for over 60 years. Available in Regular and Rippled, these chips are primarily distributed in Stark county, though distribution throughout the state is growing, and chips can also be bought fresh at the factory. The secret oil blend mixed with lard combined with the kettle cooking is what gives these chips their distinctive taste. 

Gold N’ Krisp Potato Chips were a childhood staple for Molly Ditommaso while growing up in Alliance and they continue to be a family favorite today, though her family has all relocated to central Ohio and thus, the chips are harder to come by.

“My Mom’s whole family are chip people, and Gold N’ Krisp is our chip. Growing up, I don’t think I even knew there were other potato chips out there. Gold N’ Krisp is what we would always buy. The minimalist bag and packaging is a novelty and the chip has a perfect balance —it is kettle cooked, but not overly cooked, so it has just the right crispness. We always try to have some of these chips at holiday gatherings, and when someone goes back home to the area to visit, we pick some up for each other,” Ditommaso said.

As the testimonies of these brand-loyal chip lovers attest, consensus may never be reached about what is the best Ohio potato chip.  But one thing is clear: Ohioans are blessed with innumerable mouth-watering potato chip options, given the diverse and abundant number of successful and long-standing snack food companies operating around the state.

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One comment

  1. Really enjoyed the “Ohio is Potato Chip Country” article! This is one of the most deep and rich articles on the topic. And, it was done with good taste! :-)

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