Maui: home of surfers, suntans - and potato chips?
Kahului, Maui, Hawaii
When it comes to chips 'n dips, this little island has plenty to boast about. First the chips: Behind the counter at a low-slung, cracker-box building in Kahului's modern industrial park, Joe Kobayashi is frantically filling orders for ``The Original, Maui Kitch'n Cook'd Potato Chips,'' a product that has become one of Maui's most popular products.
People pour in from the street nonstop. Some back their cars right up to the front glass doors, with trunks and hatchbacks open wider than a hippopotamus's jaws.
They can pick up a bag or two at the local grocery store, but these folks are heavy-duty potato chip eaters who are doing their holiday shopping.
``Two cartons please, Joe. I have to get these on the next plane to the mainland,'' says a heavyset man who recently moved here from California, adding, ``I send them to my family every year.''
``It's the busiest time of the year,'' says Joe, passing over another carton to a woman who was sending some to her family in San Francisco.
``Oh, sure,'' she says, ``you can get Maui chips at Macy's in San Franciso, but they cost $4.50 for a twin-pack. Other stores on the mainland carry a limited supply at sky-high prices.'' In Maui, a twin pack costs as little as $1.89.
``Oh, Joe, give me a couple of T-shirts too,'' she adds, choosing blue ones with the Maui Kitch'n Cook'd logo stamped on the front.
Joe Kobayashi and a few relations took over the chip company back in 1956 or '57, Joe can't remember quite when. Together they changed the recipe, cut the potatoes a little thicker, and hired new help. There are about 22 workers in the operation today, including a number of family members. The business is kept small and personal and the quality high.
The clear cellophane packages with red and yellow print reveal the ingredients: potatoes, cottonseed oil, salt.
What makes them so different, so sought after?
``I think because we do everything by personal control, not by machine,'' Joe says as we move between the mountain of cartons to the production area. ``Other companies like Frito Lay and Granny Goose make chips, but they have computers where you put a potato in one end and it comes out chips at the other.''
The Maui factory is one large room where women work at their various posts. Karen stands on a platform over a huge, square, stainless steel open vat filled with cottonseed oil. She stirs masses of raw, washed potato slices with a pair of humongous chopsticks.