By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
A beloved potato chip from Findlay’s past has been reincarnated and is on store shelves under the name JR’s Taters.
Jim Roby has created this Tasty Taters clone. While trademark issues prevent him from using the name and package design, he said the taste brings back memories for anyone who grew up eating these iconic Findlay potato chips.
“It’s an old-fashioned chip that actually tastes good,” he said.
Roby, 59, grew up with Tasty Taters, Wilson’s hamburgers, Jac & Do’s pizza and Dietsch Brothers’ milkshakes.
“For me, I remember how good they were and what kind of chip they were,” he said.
Roby has worked in the racing field and has tried potato chips all over the United States.
“In my opinion, potato chips nowadays, there’s so many seasonings on them, because the chip by itself don’t taste very good,” he said. “What ever happened to the good old-fashioned potato chip?”
Roby tweaked JR’s Taters to his own liking.
“When I finally got the taste where I wanted it, I said, ‘Well, I think they’re simply the best,’ which appears on the bags, too,” he said. “That became our catchphrase.”
The Tasty Taters Co. dates back to 1931 when it was owned by Claude L. Null. According to the Republican-Courier newspaper, the factory was located above Grove Market at 200½ Lima Ave. and featured the latest type of potato chip machinery: one machine could reportedly peel and slice a bushel of potatoes in five minutes.
In 1935, employee Ruth Cusac purchased the business from Null. Her sister, Mabel, came to work at the factory, which moved to 237 Prospect Ave. in 1951.
In the book “Her Story, The Women of Hancock County, A History of the Last 100 Years,” published by the Hancock Historical Museum, Mabel Cusac was listed as manager of Tasty Taters in 1948, although a nephew believes she wasn’t very active with the company until Ruth’s illness and death in 1966.
The company closed in 1973, citing the rising costs of raw ingredients.
“Findlay’s first major casualty of the country’s current economic problems with sharp inflation will probably cause the spirits of many a loyal Tasty Taters potato chip fans to drop,” reported the Aug. 13, 1973, edition of the Morning Republican.
Mabel Cusac opted to close the business and put it up for sale, rather than operate at a loss.
Tasty Taters was revived three years later under new owner Arthur “Ned” Chatelain, who said in the newspaper that “he wanted to revive a Findlay institution when he bought the rights to make Tasty Taters potato chips.”
What he didn’t realize was the reputation of those potato chips and how they had been missed over the years, the paper reported. After just three months in operation, Chatelain could barely keep the doors of his business at 1213 Tiffin Ave. open.
“The reception has been unbelievable,” Chatelain told a reporter. Customers were reportedly standing in line and getting into arguments while waiting for Tasty Taters. A whole day’s worth of frying potatoes would disappear from the store in 10 to 15 minutes, said Chatelain, who planned to increase production to guarantee a box of chips for all who wanted them.
“We owe it to the customers, no one should have to wait in line for a box of chips,” he said, adding that he didn’t want any other city to claim the business.
“It’s a Findlay institution and it belongs here,” he said.
In October 1978, however, fire gutted the plant and the business closed its doors.
Supply and demand
More than 40 years later, Roby decided to take his own shot at bringing back Tasty Taters. He researched the company and found the person who had purchased the rights and recipe from the Chatelain family. Roby said the two men talked several times, but couldn’t reach an agreement.
His next step was to talk to an old high school friend, Bill Wolf Jr., owner of Wolfies Nuts. Initially, Wolf told Roby “good luck” on the venture, but later decided to offer a helping hand as they had graduated from Findlay High School together in 1977.
While he knew Roby wanted to use the Tasty Taters name, Wolf offered his old classmate some advice: “He said, ‘Yes, what’s on the outside of the bag is somewhat important. But what’s on the inside of the bag is going to keep them coming back,'” Roby recalled.
The two worked on a new name and logo. Roby said he wanted a look similar to that of the original Tasty Taters packages, with white bags and simple red lettering.
Although the chips are manufactured elsewhere, the bags read “Findlay, Ohio,” because Roby is proud of his hometown.
“Whether I actually live in the city of Findlay doesn’t mean anything to me. I’m a Findlay guy, and I’m proud to be from Findlay,” he said.
It took about seven months to achieve Roby’s dream. The first bags of JR’s Taters appeared in a few select Findlay stores in March.
“They went so fast,” he said. “My head was spinning. You couldn’t keep them on the shelf.”
Roby said he’s heard “story after story” from his customers since then.
“One lady came looking for them. She told us her whole family had worked at Tasty Taters,” he said.
The woman said her mother kept one of the last original bags of chips.
“Finally one day her mom says, ‘We’re going to have to try and eat those before they completely go bad,'” Roby said. “And she remembered her mom putting them on a cookie sheet and she said she put them back in the oven to try and crisp them up a little bit. She said, ‘We literally sat there and cried eating that last bag years ago.'”
When the woman returned to the store after purchasing the chips, she was crying, said Roby. “She said, ‘These are so good.’ And she said, ‘It brings back memories of my childhood.'”
The experience has been both exciting and overwhelming for Roby.
“I’m humbled, too, by the fact that everybody loves them as much as I do,” he said.
And while the chips will never taste exactly like they once did, due to government mandates regarding cooking oils now, he said, “These are absolutely the closest and best thing that I’ve ever had.”
Roby has also created a barbecue-flavored chip and a marcelled version.
JR’s Taters can be found at both Great Scots, all the Wolfies carryouts, Brinkman’s and both Dietsch’s locations, as well as stores in Fort Jennings, Elida and Grover Hill.
“Wherever we put them, people love the taste,” he said.