Made in Iowa: Sterzing's Potato Chips - ABC5 News Des Moines, IA

Made in Iowa: Sterzing's Potato Chips

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by Phil Prazan


Everyone knows Iowa produces its fair share of corn, soybeans and politics, but what about potato chips?  It's true and if you want Iowa-made chips there's only one place to go.

In Burlington, Sterzing's Potato Chips is Iowa's only chip-maker.

The founder passed the chip company down for three generations, until a couple years ago when they sold the company to two long time employees: Craig Smith and Gary Schmeiser.
"Everybody that's from this area knows Sterzing's," says Schmeiser.

"We did not want to see it go into anyone else's hands or certainly not to close," says Smith.

They continue the 81-year-old business today.

"Our product is unique in the way we cook it," says Smith.

The process begins by dropping 1,500 lbs. of potatoes into the line.

"The potato has a really light peel on it," says Schmeiser.

The skins get washed off before going to the inspection table.

"Jason is taking any bad spots out and looking for any imperfections," says Schmeiser.

Then up an auger.

"It rinses the potatoes off here again," says Schmeiser.

Then down into the slicer.

"This head will spin around and bring the slices out here," says Schmeiser.

Eight blades can cut the potatoes as small as 52/100 of an inch.

"It's starchy.  It tastes like a raw potato," says Schmeiser puts one in his mouth.

They're then rinsed and dropped into where the magic happens.

After pre-heating to 310 degrees, these fryers cook and add the taste known around the world. They've used the same type of fryers for 50 years and the same shortening since the beginning in 1933.

After that the only thing left to add is the salt, then take out the ones that aren't up to snuff and package to send off.

Sterzing's dominates the snack aisle in Southeast Iowa grocery stores.  Now shipping adds a major part to their business.

"That's flattery business for us.  We joke and say we're nation wide, 'cause we know we've shipped to every state in the country," says Smith.

When Iowa soldiers were thrown into the Southeast Asian jungles for the Vietnam War, Sterzing's began a tradition of shipping around the world.

"A soldier far away from home, wanting a taste from home," says Smith.

Because of that idea, the Internet has never been the same.  A product that used to be spread from word of mouth, now speeds across social media.

"Hearing there stories about how many years they've ate them.  Every time they go back to Burlington they'll pick up ten bags, take twenty bags with them," says Schmeiser.

But the integrity of the company rests in Burlington, staying in the place that made it famous.

"We're certainly by definition a small business.  We're a small business however that has been in existence for 81 years," says Smith.

The owners commit to continuing the jobs that support more than 20 Burlington families.

"That's one of the most important things for us, is to keep steady employment in our community," says Smith.

The owners say taste has a memory and for many there's nothing better than a home state snack.
If you want to know more or order a bag for yourself to try, click here.

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