Growing up in the 1970s in Richmond, Virginia, potato chip choices were not as plentiful as they are now. Varieties? Ripples or none aside from a Kosher for Passover bag that reared its head during the Spring. Flavors? Forget about it. “Barbeque” was even pushing the envelope to the extreme. The concept of a “baked chip” was as far from anyone’s mind as an iPhone back then (and probably should have stayed that way).
How I long for that simpler time and one chip in particular – Charles Chips. In our house, the famous Charles Chips canister held sway on the middle shelf of our narrow pantry nestled between cans of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup and Heinz’s baked beans. I can still feel my kid size arms hug its cool girth as I struggle to plop off the top. Amidst a few crumbs that had settled to the bottom, there lay a glorious black-speckled tan paper bag of the classic unadorned Pennsylvania-bred potato chip.
Charles Chips is a classic American corporate story. Financial necessity drove innovation of a superior product and a unique distribution model. Before the mid-1970s, similar to the way they would receive diapers and milk, residents along much of the Eastern Seaboard could get home delivery of Charles Chips via one of the company’s familiar trucks. But then everything changed. While one could purchase Charles Chips in the grocery, time was ticking for the brand which still managed to grow until a series of corporate acquisitions robbed it of its soul.
Luckily, the Scardino family, devotees of the brand, have purchased Charles Chips and reined in the company to its original roots. You can now order original recipe chips, canisters, and refills directly from the web site. It looks like we’re not the first to find this out though – you can expect 2 to 3 week waits for shipments.
Welcome back Charles Chips! Now if I could just get my parents to find our can…