Walk with me down the isles of your neighborhood grocery store. As you peruse the space, you will notice the perimeter is dedicated to fresh fruits, veggies, meats, and dairy products (you might even find a locally produced item or two), but, as you step into the never ending maze that makes up the bulk of the store, you will notice the shelves are packed with artificially flavored, preservative laden, unpronounceable ingredient filled foods that typically traveled hundreds of miles to reach their final destination. We all have our pre-packaged salty and sweet go-to favorites, but my attempts at finding a guilty pleasure item produced in Columbus, or even Ohio, left me anything but satisfied. As I began my quest to track down the perfect locally made, whole ingredient snack, I didn’t realize the journey would begin with a food truck.
About two years ago, Brian Thornton opened his first food truck in Columbus (appropriately named OH! Burgers), but before his nascent idea became a reality, he needed to learn the ins and outs of the business. After graduating from culinary school in Chicago, Brian found himself drawn back to his hometown to hone his new skills. Even though he landed positions at some of the best restaurants in Central Ohio, like most trained chefs he wished to open a spot of his own. It was this longing which led him to enroll at The Ohio State University and balance his culinary knowledge with a degree in Operations Management. After all his chips were in a row, he chose to go the food truck route and began planning his menu. He started with burgers; a lineup of mini sandwiches topped with a variety of cheeses and spreads and made of locally sourced ingredients. Brian needed an appropriate side to accompany his main offering and knew his customers would want something made of potatoes, preferably fried. He explained how the idea of sitting inside a food truck in the dead of summer frying something to order sounded less than appealing. Instead, homemade small batch potato chips emerged as the perfect solution and he welcomed his new side business which he dubbed OH! Chips.
To discover what makes these potato chips stand out amongst the sea of bags crowding my local market shelves, I visited Brian at The Food Fort. Here, in a commercial kitchen space he rents, he was busy producing his addicting, golden fried disks. As I was inquiring about his growing company, Brian was slicing, blanching, frying, salting, and packaging his Sweet OH! Chips made of you guessed it, sweet potatoes. Twice a week he is at work frying up either his traditional Kettle chips or his sweet and savory Sweet chips; both deliciously thin and crispy. Soon Brian will be moving the operation to his own space in the up and coming neighborhood of Franklinton. He laughed as he described his new “big boy fryer”; a bath tub sized device that will catapult his current yield of 13 pounds of chips per hour to 60 pounds per hour! With the ability to up his production, Brian will be able to entertain the idea of adding seasonal flavors to his line up and making his chips even more accessible to his demanding customers.
For now, you can satisfy your craving by purchasing flavors of OH! Chips at the OH! Burger, Blu Olive, Dan’s Deli 41, Kenny’s Meat Wagon, and Ajumama food trucks or munch on a bag of pre-packaged chips while sipping local brews at Four String Brewing Co., North High Brewing, Strongwater, and Catawba Island Brewing Co. near Cleveland. You can even take home a bag of mixed Sweet and Kettle to accompany your to-go growlers from The Ohio Tap Room, purchase bags at Pam’s Popcorn in the North Market, or include them as part of your catering order from Bleu & Fig. Besides the aforementioned spots, Brian hopes to soon offer 2 ounce and 6 ounce bags on various retail store shelves, and plans on using the spent oil to power a biodiesel delivery truck. For some reason ripping open a bag and indulging in this locally made snack has me feeling anything but guilty.
Sweet Potato Chips
The Sweet OH! Chips (pictured left) traveled 0 miles to Columbus, while the sweet potato chips (pictured right) traveled 600 miles to Columbus.
Sweet Potato Chip Cupcakes w/ Torched Marshmallow Frosting
Tip: I crushed my chips by hand right in the bag they came in. Less mess and easy clean up! I also admit I got a little lazy and overfilled my cupcakes so I could bake them all in one batch. Stick to the 2/3 full…you will end up with more cupcakes to share.
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