Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: Hawaiian Chip CompanyRestaurant Insider
November 29, 2020
Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: Lawrence Tabudlo
ANNE LEE speaks with Hawaiian Chip Company general manager and owner JIMMY CHAN
Jimmy Chan’s vision is to create a destination where products are made in Hawaii, and where customers can give back aloha and bring it back to wherever they are visiting from.
Born in Korea and adopted at 8 months old by a Chinese family in Hilo, Chan made his way to Oahu for college and eventually launched what is arguably the state’s most-loved chip brand. This week, he shares with Dining Out readers how Hawaiian Chip Company got its start and what tasty things to expect for the holidays.
AL: Tell me how Hawaiian Chip Company began.
JC:This company has been going since 2000. We opened the retail location in Kalihi in 2012. This happened by chance. I was just watching Food Network, and this episode featured Emeril Lagasse making sweet potato chips. I went into the refrigerator to grab another beer, and I saw these purple Okinawan sweet potatoes on the counter, and I thought, ‘Wow, these would make great chips, too.’ I sliced them up and cooked them, and passed it out to friends and family. They started offering to buy them if I made more. I was still in college, no career established yet, so I thought this would be a great way to start a business. We started selling at Aloha Stadium Swap Meet and the old Kam Swap Meet.
AL: Tell me about the new potato chips. JC:We have added a Maui Onion flavor to our chip line — a potato chip. Prior to this, we were not doing potato chips, but we came up with this seasoning that worked out so well, and we felt given the pandemic, it allowed us to create this new flavor. We have a regular potato chip and also created a BBQ flavor, as well. Our standard 4-ounce bag we hope to get into grocery stores by the end of this year and small specialty stores, and the1-ounce size we have at our retail store.
At Costco, you will see our most popular flavor, the sweet potato taro mix that has the taro chips, purple Okinawan sweet potato and the orange sweet potato that are grown for us on the Big Island. This is what hotels, restaurants and airlines like to offer their guests as it’s a nice colorful mix.
AL: Tell me about the Kilauea line.
JC: The Kilauea Fire sauces started in 2008. I needed to create a product that had a longer shelf life and could be easily transported or shipped. I took an old family recipe and stripped it down and made it more Western style. It blends flavors from Asia and traditional American barbecue.
The Kilauea Fire spice is a seasoning we put on our chips. At one point, we had a Kilauea Fire Sweet Potato Taro Chip, which was my personal favorite. This flavor was too spicy for many people, so we dis-continued it about five years ago. We gave it a resurgence in a different form.
AL: What makes your products stand out from other chips?
JC: Our freshness. We get it to the stores as quickly as we can. Our potato chips are made here and very fresh. We make a batch early in the morning, and you can order those until we run out. We feature made-to-order taro and purple sweet potato chips in our store, and customers can get them right off the production line. We make everything from scratch and use local ingredients.
AL: Do you have anything new for the holidays?
JC: We have created a larger Holiday Aloha Box ($100 with shipping; $74 pickup in store), which is a larger version of our popular Aloha Gift Box ($75 with shipping, $53 pickup in store). This holiday box has a bigger bag of the sweet potato taro chips. For guaranteed delivery for Christmas, we ask that you place your order about two weeks before.
AL: Can you tell me more about Holly’s Choice?
JC: My 6-year-old daughter has a rare genetic disorder called Rett syndrome. Many with this condition can’t talk, walk or use their hands. For us, Holly has retained some of these skills. When we first found out about it, we were in complete shock. We created the “Holly’s Choice” line, which includes the Lilikoi BBQ Sauce and Party Mix from a company called All Butter Dreams, which was run by Audrey, who is basically my hanai mom. When she retired, we were able to create a licensing agreement where we could use her recipes.
We made it Holly’s Choice by adding taro chips to the Party Mix. We created hollysfountain.org with Hawaii Community Foundation, and we donate a portion of sales of this line to hollysfountain.org and disperse to other organizations that support Rett syndrome research. Last year, we were able to raise over $30,000.
AL: What is your most popular item?
JC: In stores, it’s our Sweet Potato Taro Mix ($6-$7). At our retail store, it’s the 1-pound box of made-to-order taro chips ($17). I would say that the taro chip is our bestseller overall.
AL: Any specials coming up?
JC: With the popularity of the spicy and hot chips that are on the market today, we will be launching a Kilauea Spicy BBQ chip. At the end of December, we will be back at the KCC Farmers Market.
AL: Any fun facts most people wouldn’t know about Hawaiian Chip Company?
JC: I had to work at Waldenbooks as I was starting Hawaiian Chip Company to cover my medical, dental, etc. At the end of every shift, I was allowed to take as many boxes that I could carry. Because the boxes were free, our standard case size for our chips was dictated by the Waldenbooks boxes. Even today, the boxes that we use today are exactly the same size boxes.