Industry: Food & Beverage
Products: Potato chips
Chip chief Kyle Morgan plans to quadruple production of his handcrafted potato chips by the end of 2017.
"I've spent my whole life moving around every two years," Morgan says when asked why he chose Denver as home base for his artisanal potato chip company. "My father was in the Navy and I was in the Air Force, and I wanted to never move again. I moved [to Denver] pretty much sight unseen and decided I'm not leaving. I love it here, and feel like I should have been here my whole life."
Though his background as a trained chef enabled him to quickly get a job at Acorn in Denver's River North (RiNo) Art District upon his arrival, Morgan wanted more. "I started Morgan Handmade Rations in 2015 with the idea of selling gnocchi at farmers markets," he explains. "That naturally transitioned into catering when the farmers market season was done."
But it was his love for the humble potato that eventually claimed all his attention. "When I was at Acorn, I made the chips every day," he continues. "I developed a weird interest in it and decided to pivot my company in that direction."
Though he began with flavors -- from Fruity and Hoppy to Dark and Roasty -- designed to pair with the beers their names described, confusion among the beertenders and patrons at the breweries selling his product led him to pivot again into what he calls "my grocery store flavors." These include Backyard Cookout, Colorado Green Chili, and Hickory Smoked Sea Salt, all handcrafted from organic, sustainably grown Harvest Moon potatoes from Rockey Farms in Colorado's San Luis Valley.
"I asked my farmers what kind of potatoes potato farmers like to eat," Morgan says. "They recommended the Harvest Moon. It's a beautiful variety with purple skin, yellow flesh, and a really great, natural sweetness to it. It makes for a really unique product."
Morgan sources his other ingredients locally whenever possible as well. "Ninety-five percent of the seasonings I use are from Savory Spice Shop in Denver," he says. All of his varieties are free of artificial flavors and preservatives.
He recently invested in colorful new packaging to enhance his brand's image and extend its shelf life by three months. "I'm using Colorado potatoes and other indigenous ingredients," he explains. "And I like to develop flavors off of what Colorado is known for, so I'm really marketing these as Colorado-style potato chips. The bag is going to look really awesome on shelves and has a flat bottom so it stands up by itself."
Challenges: In one word, growth. Since the beginning, Morgan has run a one-man operation, taking 200 pounds of potatoes each week through a three-day process of slicing, blanching, resting, frying, cooling, seasoning, and packaging. Now that he has his new packaging in hand, he says he wants to start going through 1,000 pounds a week.
"Trying to quadruple business over the next month to month-and-a-half requires handling that increase in workload. I'm not operating at 100 percent right now, so I have plenty of room to grow. But once I get there, what will the next challenge be?"
Opportunities: Consumers can currently find Morgan Handmade Rations Colorado-style potato chips in around 30 local shops and craft breweries, but that number is likely to increase as Morgan begins working with a local distribution company this month. "They are going to help broker my product to Sprouts and Whole Foods," he says. "I'll definitely be able to sustain a full-time employee to help out at that point."
Needs: Right now, Morgan is still hand slicing every potato on a mandoline. "Unfortunately, that's not sustainable because of the labor that goes into it," he says. "A consistent, automatic slicer will be my next big investment. It won't be a huge one, but it will cut hours off of the day. I'm also planning to bring on a sales and delivery person once I've hit my production target."