By Anna Lardinois, Startup Storyteller
Milwaukee Chip Company has grown tremendously since it was established as a limited liability corporation in the spring of 2020.
Within a year, the company was renting kitchen space by the hour at Upstart Kitchen to create its hand-crafted potato chips. This spring, the company opened its own 2,500 square foot facility on Milwaukee’s northwest side.
Milwaukee Chip Company is already a story of tremendous growth — and this manufacturer is just getting started.
Founder Mike Moeller used the pandemic as an opportunity to try something new. He started the upscale potato chip business with the intention that Milwaukee Chip Company would be what he termed a “side project.”
The company quickly grew beyond his initial expectations.
“I’ve been passionate about food my entire life,” he said. “I love to eat. I am a glutton. Potato chips are the world’s most popular salty snack. I think they’re great. They’re versatile, they’re convenient. And we didn’t quite have what I was looking for on the shelves here in Milwaukee. I thought maybe there would be some other people looking for an elevated chip also. So, I thought I’d give it a try.”
He saw the Milwaukee market as a strong potential customer base.
“Milwaukee is a city that appreciates food. I think it punches above its weight when it comes to food,” Moeller said.
The company prides itself on its attention to detail. Everything, from the grinding of the seasoning for the chips, to the packaging, and of course, the frying of the potatoes, is done by hand. Despite the company’s rapid growth, its devotion to exceptional quality remains.
A strong potential customer base wasn’t the only thing about Milwaukee that made sense to Moeller. He also says Milwaukee is the ideal place to manufacture potato chips.
“I think that Milwaukee is uniquely positioned,” he said. “We have a number of geographical gifts that make this business make more sense here than in most other places. For one, we grow potatoes right here in the state. Wisconsin is, depending on the year, the number three or four grower of potatoes in the nation. I drive up to Plover, just outside of Stevens Point, myself every couple of weeks and pick up a trailer full of potatoes from the Okray Family Farms.”
Proximity to the Great Lakes was a significant consideration, too – an increasingly important regional asset for Southeastern Wisconsin, as other regions around the country experience significant water shortages.
“We have plentiful high quality and low-cost fresh water,” he said. “That’s really important both for the growing of potatoes and for the cleaning and manufacturing process of chips.”
Moeller and his team are devoted to using Wisconsin products.
“Everything that we’ve done with the product has been very intentional, very thoughtful and ties into the main story that this is a Milwaukee product,” he said. “These are Wisconsin-grown potatoes. The bag is even made here in the state. We are really trying to do everything the right way. We are trying to do it local.”
Moeller is impressed with how Wisconsin supports the agricultural and food processing industries.
“Agriculture and food processing are a really big, important part of the state economy,” he said. “There’s a skill set that exists here in the state. There’s also a lot of really well-run state programs. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has the Something Special from Wisconsin program. That’s a wonderful program that’s very accessible and supportive of really tiny businesses, like mine.”
Milwaukee Chip Company potato chips can be found in a growing number of locations. Early customers Black Husky Brewing and Nice Sandwich are now joined by select Sendik’s locations, as well as Levy Restaurants’ presence in the Fiserv Forum, and a host of other local establishments.
Growth has allowed for expanded availability of the chips and the opportunity to increase the product line. Moeller anticipates new chip flavors to be introduced in 2023.
Tremendous growth often requires an influx of capital to support it. The largely bootstrapped company is cautiously considering its options as it continues to scale.
“When you bring in outside capital, it complicates the business, and it sometimes skews some of the incentives, especially in the short term. We have an open mind about that stuff, and we are considering options, but I do suspect that the next big stage of our business probably involves a capital infusion of some sort,” Moeller said.
To follow the growth of Milwaukee Chip Company, click here.