In the next six months or so, Christine Ameigh, owner of Slide Food Cart and Beyond Catering, is hoping to get her gourmet potato chips to a grocery store near you.
Ameigh, who was born in Green Bay and lives in Madison, recently received a crowdfunding loan from Kiva (information about this loan program was featured in last week’s column) to help grow her business.
The loan, which is administered locally and topped up by Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation, was used to purchase a potato chip cutter, develop new marketing materials, and hire someone to sell and market the product in stores across Wisconsin.
“We hand cut an average of 1,200 pounds of potatoes a week with a mandolin and now we have a slicer,” said Ameigh. “I did all of the marketing, too, and now that I have the Kiva loan, I’ve hired someone and she’s wonderful. She got five new accounts in the past week. It’s exactly what I was hoping for. “
With around 30 accounts, she admits that the potato chips were not part of her first business plan. Ameigh had planned to open a restaurant when she moved to Madison from California, but the room she picked required too many updates to pass an inspection. She changed the plan and decided to become part of the food truck trend.
“When I finally decided to start a car in Madison, the regulations were intimidating,” she said. “I was looking for something that people weren’t doing yet; There were all sorts of different carts. To avoid some of the strange rules, I came up with a concept that doesn’t require a fryer or grill. “
The result was an interesting menu of small sandwiches known as “sliders” called “Slide One”. She designed an eye-catching car and sold it on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. The season went great, but she realized that Wisconsin winters weren’t made for food trucks.
The next step was to switch to gastronomy and “Beyond Catering” was born. She rented a commercial kitchen space in a mall and then leased the space to other small food companies that needed a place to prepare their groceries, baked goods, and condiments. Your catering business picked up speed almost immediately.
“I do about four or five catering events a week now, and we’re basically booked 80 percent of the weekends for weddings during the summer,” Ameigh said.
But it’s the potato chips, almost an afterthought, that have changed the direction of their business the most.
“I wanted a side for the sliders, but I didn’t want any oil in my food cart,” she said. “I wondered which side I could do, and my father mentioned that through his job he had met some potato growers who had a special kind of potato for potato chips. Most were outsourced, but he found a farmer who wasn’t. I owe that to my father. “
A friend suggested that she make potato chips and now she had a source for the potatoes. She describes them as thicker than normal skin and crispy chips. The slogan is: “They actually taste like potatoes.”
An inspector took her through the production process and she started selling them in her food cart and on catering menus. The response was unbelievable and the next step into wholesaling was a matter of course.
“One customer said she’ll buy a bag of chips and hide them so the rest of the family can’t eat them,” laughed Ameigh.
With that kind of support, the business has grown to five flavors in more than 30 stores including grocery stores and restaurants.
“I’ve been pretty good at achieving goals, but you never know what the obstacles are,” said Ameigh. “I recently went to a conference to learn how to compete against people with a bigger market share. If I had a million dollar dream it would be to be all over this part of the country and go west with their local potatoes. “
The business plan has grown into two plans – one for the potato chips and one for the catering and food truck. She expects to do less with daily food truck sales and more with catering and wholesale. The growth now supports 12 employees and she wants to have a manufacturing facility within the next year.
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and former District Director of SCORE, Wisconsin.