In the next six months or so, Christine Ameigh, owner of Slide Food Cart and Beyond Catering, is hoping to bring her gourmet potato chips to a grocery store near you.
Ameigh, who was born in Green Bay and lives in Madison, recently obtained a crowd-funded loan from Kiva (information about this loan program was featured in last week’s column) to support the growth of her business.
The loan, administered locally and matched by the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation, was put to use to purchase a potato chip slicer, develop new marketing materials, and hire someone to sell and market the product to stores all over Wisconsin.
“We had been cutting an average of 1,200 pounds of potatoes a week by hand, using a mandolin, and now we have a slicer,” Ameigh said. “I had also been doing all of the marketing, and now that I have the Kiva loan, I hired someone and she is wonderful. In the last week, she got five new accounts. It is exactly what I hoped would happen.”
With about 30 accounts, she admits that the potato chips were not in her first business plan. Ameigh had planned to open a restaurant when she moved to Madison from California, but the space she had selected required too many updates to pass inspection. She modified the plan and decided to be part of the food truck trend.
“When I finally decided to open a cart in Madison, the regulations were intimidating," she said. "I was looking for something that people weren’t doing yet; there were all kinds of different carts. To avoid some of the weird rules, I came up with a concept that didn’t require a fryer or grill.”
The result was an interesting menu of small sandwiches known as “sliders” and the name, “Slide One.” She designed an eye-catching cart and sold on campus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Things were going great in season, but she realized that Wisconsin winters weren’t made for food carts.
The next step was a move into catering, and “Beyond Catering” was born. She leased a commercial kitchen space in a strip shopping center, and then subleased space to other small food-related businesses that needed a place to prepare their food, bakery and condiments. Her catering business took off almost immediately.
“I do about four or five catering events a week now, and in the summer, we’re basically booked 80 percent of the weekends for weddings,” Ameigh said.
But it is the potato chips, created almost as an afterthought, that have most changed the direction of her business.
“I wanted to have a side for the sliders, but I didn’t want to have oil in my food cart," she said. "I was considering what kind of side I could do, and my dad mentioned that through his job he had met some potato farmers who were carrying a special kind a potato for potato chips. Most were contracted out, but he found a farmer who wasn’t. I have my dad to thank for this.”
A friend had suggested she make potato chips, and she now had a source for the potatoes. She describes them as thicker than normal chips with skins on and crunchier. The tag line is, “They actually taste like potatoes.”
An inspector walked her through the production process, and she began selling them in her food cart and on catering menus. The response was incredible, and the next step into wholesaling was a natural.
“One customer said she buys a bag of chips and hides them so the rest of the family can’t eat them,” Ameigh laughed.
With that kind of support, the business has grown to where she now has five flavors in more than 30 outlets including grocery stores and restaurants.
“I’ve been pretty good at hitting goals, but you never know what obstacles there are," Ameigh said. "Recently, I went to a conference to learn how to compete against people with a larger share of the market. If I had a million-dollar dream, it would be that I’m all over this part of the country and heading out west using their local potatoes.”
The business plan has become two plans — one for the potato chips and one for the catering and food cart. She anticipates doing less with the daily food cart sales and more with catering and wholesaling. The growth now supports 12 employees, and she would like to have a production facility within the next year.
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.