Food & Drink

Food Focus: Friends Potato Chips are more than local — they're hyper-local

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When you think of locally made potato chips, the first thing that comes to mind is probably Better Made, right? And sure, they're local. And sure, they're great. But what about something more local? What about something hyper-local?

Friends Potato Chips are hyper-local. Three people work to craft each small batch. Three people package and distribute each brown paper bag. Three people.

Mike Wimberly is one of those people. He's the executive director of Friends of Detroit, an organization that aims to help residents of the Hope District on Detroit's east side find jobs and affordable housing. Wimberly's mother started the organization and now serves as an adviser.

"We'd been casting about for a food product," Wimberly says. The organization tried other products like cornbread, but nothing quite fit. Then, he says, John Austin from Whole Foods encouraged him to attempt a chip.

And so Friends Potato Chips was born. Shortly after they got started, Wimberly joined the FoodLab program to help educate himself on how to run a food company. He says he learned branding, presentation, networking and web design. He graduated in June, and at his final presentation he met David Kirby, the owner of Parker Street Market, which is where we found our first bag of Friends Potato Chips.

"He just got us," Wimberly says. "They understood what we were doing."

And so the market started stocking their chips, available there for 4 bucks a bag.

Four dollars might seem a little steep for a one- or two-serving size bag, but the price comes from the company's intent to stay hyper-local and to maintain the quality of the product. Some of the potatoes are grown in a local community urban garden, and all of the chips are made in small batches.

Did we mention only three people make these chips?

They've been making chips for about two years now, but recently started adding spices to the mix. Barbecue and Lemon Pepper are now available for purchase.

As the company slowly grows, Wimberly is conscious of maintaining its Detroit presence, as well as their identity. In fact, identity was something that was integral to the creation of the chips.

"We wanted to make something that had soul," he says. "We wanted to make sure it was authentic. We didn't want to be like anybody else. We want it to be the total experience."

The chips aren't like any other chips you'll pick up in the store. They're noticeably wholesome, and they taste homemade. They're fried and spiced by hand. They taste like something you made in your own kitchen. If you had time to make small-batch potato chips, that is.

For now, Wimberly says his plan is to remain a good local company until the time to go regional comes, and national after that. Detroiters can enjoy these tasty, salty chips and revel in the secret of Friends Potato Chips.

Find Friends Potato Chips at Parker Street Market, Goodwell's Natural Food Market, Rasta Hakeem African Imports, Detroit Farm and Garden, Robinson Mobil Inc., Nandi's Knowledge Café, and Avalon International Breads.

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