Made in Michigan: Detroit Friends Potato Chips

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DETROIT (WJRT) - (11/23/16) - They're sliced straight from the garden and come in six flavors - and they're so good that even Oprah put Detroit Friends Potato Chips on her list of favorite things for 2016.

"They sent us an email saying that they were interested in the chips and would we send them chips," said Michael Wimberley, Detroit Friends Potato Chips founder. "So, we sent them some chips and they came back saying, 'We love your chips'. Well, we were like, 'Thumbs up, we're in.'"

Oprah endorsed the product in her 'O' magazine and since that time, production has shot through the roof, with the company working to crank out over 700 bags daily inside of their southeast Detroit facility.

"We had to kind of soak it in because this is really a miracle," Wimberley said. "We're like, nobody in terms of a grassroots community action agency doing a potato and this is like unreal."

The idea for the chips began when Wimberley, an activist, grew tired of looking at vacant, run-down plots of lands near his home in the Motor City, so, he decided to plant some potatoes. With the help of a few volunteers, including his sister, he turned them into the crunchy snack and let the local soup kitchen goers test them out.

Not everyone was a fan at first.

"They show up hungry and of course, they're going to eat them, right? Wrong. They threw them away as soon as they hit the plate," Wimberley said. "They were soggy, they were more French fry than potato chip, they were oily, I mean, you name it, check the box, they were a mess."

Eventually they did get it right.

Long before Oprah caught word, the regulars had to approve.

"We just kept making bad potato chips until we figured it out. And once we figured it out, we knew that we figured it out because they stopped being in the trash," he said.

Even though they have the support of one of the biggest stars in the world, it's what this company is doing locally that sets them apart.

"The proceeds from the sales of the potato chips go to help sustain the soup kitchen and also to help us develop some other financially-sustainable business models in this community," Wimberley said.

Since it did take so long for the company to perfect their chip, they encourage others going into the food business to continue trying until they get it right.

"Our advice is just trying to figure out how to take that recipe and transfer it into a business model and just keep experimenting and never quit," Wimberley said.

In the future, Detroit Friends Potato Chips plans to amp up production and expand internationally, but they say their roots will always remain right here in Michigan.

For a complete list of stores and restaurants where Detroit Friends Potato Chips are sold, click the link in the 'Related Links' section of this story.

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