Should you drive by the Better Made Snack Foods factory on Gratiot Avenue in Detroit on a weekday, roll down the window a bit. There’s not much to look at. The scene is a typical Detroit neighborhood, a slumbering main drag leading to side streets with a few tidy homes amid derelict vacants. But you’ll find one overwhelming difference here: This neighborhood smells like potatoes.
Especially so on the day we visit, because the plant, which processes tens of millions of pounds of spuds a year, is running full-tilt in anticipation of Fourth of July weekend. You can see the action through the windows in front of the plant: A steady stream of potato chips courses down a long trough, inspected by workers. We park the car and take a look at the chips that families will be cracking open bags of at barbecues two weeks from now.
Driving on to the plant’s gate on French Road, we arrive at the main building’s visitor entrance, where we’re greeted by Better Made Snack Foods President Mark Winkelman. He has promised us a tour of the plant, and it’s a rare opportunity — the snack factory stopped giving public tours decades ago.