Broad Ripple Chip Co. delivers fresh, locally made potato chips
Writer / Jon Shoulders
Photographer / Michael Thierwechter
In Mark McSweeney’s experience for the past four years as founder and owner of Broad Ripple Chip Co., he’s found that a simple approach is decidedly the best one.
McSweeney’s chips, made with a mere three ingredients – canola oil, spices and russet potatoes – can be found at groceries, restaurants and breweries throughout Central Indiana, and he feels the simplicity of his production method has yielded a uniquely flavorful chip and, consequently, a steadily growing customer base.
In 2012 McSweeney, owner of Great Harvest Bread Co. wholesale bakery at 62nd and Binford, found himself with unused space at his bakery and began chewing on the idea of making and selling his own brand of chips as a side-project.
“I had thought about what I could do with that extra space for several years,” recalls McSweeney, who has operated Great Harvest since relocating to Indianapolis from St. Louis in 1989. “There were already popcorn places that were doing business, so I didn’t want to do that, and I always enjoyed the taste of a freshly made potato chip.”
For the next year and half, McSweeney researched chip recipes online and sought advice from several industry professionals including a professor at Boise State University. He decided to use Idaho baking potatoes, sourced from Piazza Produce, which yield a dark and flavorful chip.
“A lot of chips have very high sugar content in the potato, which causes the chip to turn out really, really dark,” he says. “What I had to figure out was how to recondition the potato and have that sugar content go down. There are potatoes that a lot of companies use that are used exclusively for chips, known as chipping potatoes, and they end up looking lighter like Lay’s chips. But I felt like the russet potatoes we use had a better flavor.”
The result is a distinctive chip, free of gluten, preservatives and trans fats, available in original and Sweet & Spicy flavors. Each and every bag is adorned with an illustration of McSweeney’s family pet, a pug named Zeus.
Although the Broad Ripple Chip Co. operation remains modest in size – the production facility takes up about half of the 2,000-square-foot Great Harvest facility, and consists of a staff of five – its distribution reach has grown steadily over the last four years, and McSweeney says he might add a third flavor to his product line down the road.
“We’re in about 20 or 22 Kroger stores and Fresh Thyme and some of the smaller independent markets like Pogue’s Run and Georgetown Market,” he says. “The distributor we started using six months to a year ago, Ideal Meat, carries some Indiana-grown products in Ohio and Kentucky. So, we’re in Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton, and we’re in most of the Fresh Thyme stores in Ohio.”
In November 2014, less than a year after opening, Broad Ripple Chip Co. received national attention when Alton Brown, host of the Food Network’s Good Eats, traveled through Indy for his Road Eats culinary web journal. Brown made a stop at a now-closed café in Irvington, tried some of McSweeney’s chips during his meal and offered some glowing praise on his official web site.
“He said they were some of the best chips he’d ever had, and called us later and asked if he could include us in their holiday gift guide,” McSweeney says. “That was a lot of fun.”
McSweeney feels the key to his company’s continued growth lies in offering a refreshingly simple yet tasty product.
“The chip itself is very different than most chips people have had, and people have seemed to respond to the flavor,” he says. “I’ve had customers that I’ve dropped off chips for, just to sample, and they’ve called me on my way back to my business and said they wanted to carry them in their store, before I even got back.”