UW-Madison grads Frederick and Kathryne Meyer began selling potato chips to Madison grocery stores out of a Chevrolet roadster during the Great Depression. In 1938, the potato chips started coming off the line at the Meyers’ innovative production facility on Division Street near the Schoep’s Ice Cream Company. It was there an empire was born: Red Dot Foods Inc.
After outgrowing the Division Street building, Red Dot moved to a larger facility on East Washington Avenue near the Yahara River and Dickinson Street. All the way up until 1973, Red Dot rolled out bag after bag of potato chips in the heart of Madison’s isthmus.
Christine Ameigh, owner of Slide Food Cart and Beyond Catering, had never heard of Red Dot when she began researching potato chip makers in the area. It seemed kismet that the long-defunct company was located not far from where she planned to package hand-cut potato chips.
“As far as I can tell, Red Dot was the last company to make potato chips on the scale we are doing,” says Ameigh. “Our kitchen is also on East Wash, which I thought was pretty cool.”
Ameigh first started making potato chips as a side for the sandwiches and other dishes at her food cart, Slide. In 2015, she set a goal of establishing a side venture to help bolster business during the food cart off-season.
“I could see that the [existence of] lean months with the food cart wasn’t going to end,” says Ameigh, who also runs the food cart organization Let’s Eat Out. “The chips were popular with customers, and I thought maybe this was a way to not have such a financially difficult winter season with my business.”
Today, Slide Potato Chips (both sea salt and barbecue flavor) are available at nine local retailers, including Metcalfe’s Market, Fromagination and Jenifer Street Market, and several restaurants; they are also a mainstay item of Ameigh’s two food carts and catering business. Slide currently cuts and fries 1,000 pounds of potatoes each week. Even with a rapid increase in production in 2016, Ameigh still sources all the potatoes from Heartland Farms in Hancock, Wisconsin. Every chip is also still being cut by hand.
“We tried a machine that slices. We found that wasn’t as effective as just having a person use a mandoline [slicer]. It’s more work, but we think it’s worth it. I was just at my kitchen this morning cutting potatoes for two hours,” says Ameigh. “I also feel like there is an appeal to it. I’m still using people. I’m creating jobs. I like that.”
Ameigh is currently in talks with a distributor that would put Slide Potato Chips on the shelves at 15 Roundy’s-owned grocery stores in the area, including Pick ’n Save and Metro Market. If that deal goes through, Slide will triple its production of potato chips to meet the demand. That has Ameigh thinking about the future. She’s in early talks about moving her operation to the yet-to-be-completed small business incubator at the old Garver Feed Mill near Olbrich Park.
“Everything seems to be moving in the right direction. If the price is right and I can get space that increases my productivity, then I definitely want to go there,” says Ameigh. “But at this point, there are no firm plans.”
From its humble start, Red Dot became a multimillion-dollar business and the leading manufacturer of snack foods in the Midwest. In 1961, the company merged with H.W. Lay & Company (which eventually became the food behemoth Frito-Lay, a subsidiary of PepsiCo). Four days after the merger was finalized, Frederick Meyer killed himself with a shotgun at his Maple Bluff home. His family blamed the tragedy on Meyer’s depression over losing control of the company he had built from the ground up.
Although Ameigh wants to keep expanding her chip business, she plans to stay closer to home.
“Ultimately, I’d like Slide Potato Chips to be available throughout Wisconsin. That seems big enough.”