TIFFIN, Ohio – All she has to do is say her name and people start to salivate.
In their minds, the name Sue Ballreich conjures up cravings for salty snacks and crispy ripples.
Finally, when people are able to properly introduce themselves to Sue, all that comes out are tales of how their son, grandson or grandfather loves Ballreich Potato Chips so much that they have to be shipped to him in Florida or California every month.
It’s just a small sacrifice Sue has to live with in order to be part of the popular 83-year-old potato chip company in Tiffin, Ohio.
Chips have been a part of Sue’s life ever since she was a child living around the corner from the plant.
“I could always smell chip smoke anywhere in Tiffin,” she said. “It just depended on which way the wind was blowing.”
Center of life. Everything revolves around chips in the Ballreich family: This year Sue will celebrate her 50th birthday with Ballreich’s 1-pound bag of chips, which is also turning 50.
In addition, when Sue is alone in her kitchen baking cookies, she isn’t just adding vanilla, chocolate and sugar to the dough. She’s also adding her not-so-secret ingredient… crushed chips, of course.
Although she’s taste-testing chip flavors, sampling competitors’ chips and picking new designs for bags, Sue’s work still gets tough.
She worries: Is the sell-by date correct? Is the price stamp right? Are there holes in the bags?
So when she needs a pick-me-up or quick treat, she heads upstairs, sticks a napkin under the conveyor and takes a handful of steaming chips back to her desk.
Ahhh, a day in the life of a potato chip queen.
Childhood. As a kindergartner at Lincoln Elementary School, Sue crossed Dwight Street and went on a tour of the chip plant on Ohio Avenue with her classmates.
She left with a free bag of chips and a lasting memory.
Only later, after she started working at the company in the sacking room, did she meet the men behind the Ballreich legend.
One of these men, Tom Ballreich, became more than just a man with a special spud. Nineteen years ago he also became her husband.
They now share an office, desks facing each other.
Hot item. The chips are sent all over the world. They have to be shipped in unmarked boxes because otherwise they mysteriously never arrive at their destination. Germany, Australia, Florida and California are some of the hottest Ballreich chip destinations.
Although there are Ballreich chip addicts throughout the world, the company doesn’t spend its resources on marketing.
Instead, Ballreich’s prefers to keep the company on a smaller, regional scale. Sue said that if they were producing more chips and marketing to a greater geographic area, quality would be sacrificed and the family would lose control of the product.
Nevertheless, sales are increasing and the marketing circle pushes its geographic boundaries each year.
Holiday hunger. Palates are especially chip hungry at holidays. Sometimes a semi load of chips a week is shipped out for Christmas parties and gifts.
The company only fries chips to fill orders, so customers can count on the chips being fresh.
Chips are a hot commodity in the summer with burgers and with dip. But sales go flat each New Year’s when the chips turn into dieters’ worst nightmares, Sue said.
Things pick up again in time for the Super Bowl, when diets are long forgotten and customers are back to snacking.
Short life. Trucks haul in loads of potatoes from across the country. In August, the company supports local agriculture by buying from a nearby potato farmer.
Once the potatoes get to Ballreich’s, they don’t stay in their raw form for long – 8,000 pounds of potatoes are used each hour. The entire process from a soil-caked potato to a chip in a bag takes 18 minutes.
Even customers who pick up the chips at the grocery store can safely bet that just 72 hours earlier, they were potatoes in a bin at the plant.
Products. Barbecue, southwest, sour cream and onion, salt and vinegar and no salt added complete Ballreich’s chip line.
Pretzels, tortilla chips, party mix and pork rinds also tempt snackers’ taste buds. They’re in a Ballreich bag but the company doesn’t make them.
Inspection. Chip inspectors stand guard at every step of production. As the potatoes are being cleaned and peeled with sandpaper-like rollers, employees keep their eyes out for imperfections on the potatoes, which are quickly cut out.
After being sliced and washed again, the chips move through the cooker at a rate of 2,000 pounds an hour. Salt is sprinkled on the hot chips, which are carried on a bucket conveyor to the sacking room. Seasoning is added to the flavored varieties.
Any extra waste – potato peels and chips that don’t make the inspection – have a special place: the “pig truck.” This edible waste is hauled to a local hog farm.
Chip history. This family of potato entrepreneurs began with Fred, the second youngest of the 13 Ballreich children.
After helping in his sister’s bakery and serving as a baker in the service during World War I, Fred and his wife, Ethel, started making potato chips in their garage.
The year was 1920 and the garage had just a dirt floor.
The couple peeled 60 pounds of potatoes each morning, fried them in the afternoon, packed them in brown paper bags and stapled the top shut.
The result of each day of hard labor: 16 pounds of home-cooked potato chips.
These days, Ballreich produces 2,000 pounds of chips an hour, but now there are big machines, 43 more employees and lots of family support.
This family support started shortly after Fred and Ethel started the business in their garage.
Fred enlisted his brother, Carl, to join the partnership and other brothers later started helping at the company, too.
Within months the building was enlarged, kettles were added and neighbor women were busy peeling, slicing and bagging.
Fred’s and Carl’s children took over operations after World War II, and 50 years later, the business is still run by descendants.
Back for more. Throughout the years, customers sum up Ballreich’s success best.
A customer who moved away and recently found out the chips can be ordered sent a letter:
“I have so many fond memories of sharing chips and chatter with my mom. How I love them!
“…You have no idea how many times I have commented out of the clear blue, ‘I sure wish I had some Ballreich chips.’ Now I’ll be able to make that happen.
“Thank you so much for such a great product and all the great memories as well!”
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
Get the details
Ballreich’s Potato Chips
186 Ohio Ave.
Tiffin, OH 44883
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