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Wednesday, 03 July 2013 15:09

New Owner, New Look, New Tastes: Saratoga Chips Going Nationwide

By Patricia Older | News

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Dreams do come true—just ask Danny and Shelly Jameson who started Saratoga Chips out of a back room in their house just four years ago and have just sold it to investors who are not only keeping the Jameson’s on, but have plans of taking the brand nationally.

“You know that old saying that if you love something enough to let it go and if it was meant to be it would come back to you?” said Danny Jameson. “Well, that is exactly what happened to us.”

Jameson explained that their company had become so successful that they were no longer able to meet its growing demands, so they decided to look for a buyer who could expand it and take the company where it needed to go. 

“We love this business so much, but we didn’t have the resources it needed to let it go to the next level,” said Jameson of Saratoga Specialties which manufactures the famous chips in the blue box. “We didn’t want to be responsible for holding it back.”

So, in order to capitalize the business for faster growth, Jameson sought investment partners experienced in the consumer packaged goods industry, but who would also leave the location of the company in Saratoga Springs. 

Enter investors Jim Schneider and Joe Boff who are both familiar with Saratoga and the surrounding areas. Schneider previously lived in the Spa City when he was president of Beech Nut Nutrition Corp. when they were relocating to Fulton County—he has since retired; and Boff, a Florida real estate developer, has invested in several downtown restoration projects as well as is a New York thoroughbred owner and breeder. 

Jameson said his wife and himself decided to start Saratoga Specialties in 2009 after finding themselves unemployed. Jameson had been a Department of Defense IT technician and found himself without a job at the change of the presidential administration. 

Not wanting to look back or cry unfair, the Jamesons looked for a way to take control of their futures, pay their bills and raise their children. 

A serendipitous trip to Canfield Casino would launch an idea and ultimately bring back the original Saratoga Chip. 

“We went to Canfield Casino and there hanging on the wall was an original Saratoga Chip box,” explained Jameson. “So I asked about its history.” 

Jameson learned that the chips were first created in August 1853 at Moon’s Lake House in Saratoga when one evening a patron ordered fried potatoes with his meal. But the diner was not happy with the potatoes he received, complaining they were too thick, so he sent them back to the kitchen.

The chef at the restaurant was George Crum, who was known for his ornery disposition. Upset that someone would criticize his cooking and send food back, Crum sliced a batch of potatoes paper-thin, fried them in boiling oil to a crispy texture and then lightly salted them.  What was intended to be an “ornery stunt” turned into an instant hit–the fussy diner and his friends loved the crunchy potato slices and began telling all their friends across the Northeast about them. The chips quickly became known as Saratoga Chips.  When George Crum left Moon’s Lake House, he started his own restaurant known as Crum’s House and he placed large baskets of the Saratoga Chips on every table.  

It was not long before Saratoga Chips could be found in restaurants up and down the East Coast of America. 

That all changed, explained Jameson, when in the 1920s, Herman Lay, who used to visit Saratoga in the summers, came to town and tasted the crispy potatoes. When he went back to Georgia he started to experiment with ways to streamline the process, finally inventing the automatic potato peeler and the conveyor belt system needed to manufacture the chips.  

“But he had a marketing problem,” continued Jameson. “They were called Saratoga Chips and not everyone across the country knew what Saratoga was so he called them what they were—potato chips.”

The mass-produced chips soon put Saratoga Chips out of business and they became a part of the past. 

“That’s when I asked a simple question,” said Jameson. “Why, because of history, can’t you buy a Saratoga Chip?” 

Launching their company on the Fourth of July in 2009 as a personal way to declare their independence from unemployment, the Jameson reintroduced the Saratoga Chip to the region in the original Moon’s Lake take-out box. 

While it was difficult at first in the sagging economy to make the company flourish, the couple managed to keep the business afloat and start expanding into other local market areas. But they were at a standstill without the resources to market it any further than a few hundred miles. 

That is where Schneider and Boff come in. 

Coming to an agreement with the Jamesons on the purchase of the company, the investors also renamed the company Saratoga Chips and asked both of the Jamesons to stay on—Danny is vice president of operations and Shelly will continue to manage the company’s bookkeeping. 

“Shelly and I are excited to stay with our legacy and see our vision realized with the products eventually being sold in stores across the country,” said Jameson. 

The company has also gone from a four-person operation to employing clients of Saratoga Bridges as well as hiring a new CFO and division manager. They have also moved the operations to a warehouse on Ferry Road. 

He continued, noting that Saratoga Chips would have a new look, as well as some new flavors and eventually custom-designed dips. 

“We did some packaging changes,” said Jameson. “Within a 75-mile range, everyone knows the blue box, but outside of that range, everyone knows Saratoga Springs for its thoroughbred racing.” 

That, he said, is what they hoped would make the chips popular. 

“We tried to place an inherent market strength—to send out that message that links together the chip and where it originated at with the racing and the packaging,” said Jameson, adding that the company would first seek out new markets in the New York City area before spreading east to Boston and west to Rochester. “The new bags will clearly illustrate a treasure to the local area—horses and horse racing.” 

They will also be introducing some new dips to the market. 

“Before the end of the year, Saratoga Chips plans to launch a line of artisan chip dips created by Chef David Britton of the Downtown City Tavern in Glens Falls,” said Jameson. “David previously was with the Food Network and has created a range of unique dips and cooking sauces.  These will be popularly priced and available in all supermarkets.”

Schneider added that he is excited about the future of company. 

“[We are] pleased with the progress the company has made since its acquisition and we are happy that Danny and Shelly are staying,” said Schneider. “Soon we will be expanding to new markets outside the Capital Region and have introduced two new flavors, Honey Barbeque and Rosemary Garlic, along with our popular Original Saratoga Chip.”

As for their dreams to be independent and to bring back the famous Saratoga Chip, Jameson said they couldn’t be more excited or happy with the new developments. 

“The most exciting thing, even more than the money, is the new partners have the resources and experience to make these dreams happen,” said Jameson. 

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