Small Town Spotlight: Arco chip company features Idaho potatoes with unique flavors
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ARCO — Peanut butter and jelly. Sal’s Brooklyn pizza. “Naked and Free” unsalted.
These are just a few of the myriad flavors available at the Arco-based Atomic Potato Chip Company. All of the chips, company co-owner Don Tarner told EastIdahoNews.com, start with the best potatoes available.
“We wanted to be different,” Tarner said. “I don’t want to be Lays; I want to be something better. So we went with the best potatoes in the world, which are Idaho potatoes.”
Don grew up in Hershey, Pennsylvania. As a child, he recalls eating a lot of Kat and Ray’s potato chips, a local staple.
Then, as an adult, he was strolling the boardwalk at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, when he noticed a shop selling french fries had an “unbelievably long” line.
He waited in that line for the fries, which were obviously a hot seller. When he got to the front, he asked what made the fries such a hot ticket and was told that it was a combination of the fries being made with fresh-cut potatoes and the peanut oil used to fry them.
“That stuck with me for years,” he said.
Years later, after meeting his wife Joanna, who has made a career for herself as a commercial cook, the two took a trip to Idaho.
Part of Don’s interest in the Gem State has always been based around the food scene — primarily in Boise. When they arrived in eastern Idaho about six years ago, they decided to stay.
Three years ago, the couple started workshopping their chip idea.
“We spent about a year test-marketing on friends and family,” he said.
They asked anyone who would answer for their opinion of their chips. The product combines Idaho potatoes with the same peanut oil that made those Delaware french fries so memorable. Joanna comes up with the memorable flavors, such as ketchup or fry sauce.
“My wife is a genius, an absolute genius when it comes to being able to put flavors together. She has a gift,” Don said.
Her first flavor was Campfire, which mimicked the taste of a baked potato cooked foil-wrapped in a campfire.
“These flavors kinda come to us,” Don said, “We’re not afraid to go out there and try something new. We have 19 flavors now, plus two types of tortilla (chips).”
The couple initially made those chips to order with a pair of Presto fryers in the kitchen of their Blackfoot home. Soon, the increasing number of orders and flavors grew to be too much for those two little fryers.
That was what landed the company in Arco.
Out for a day trip, Don and Joanna found a Business Incubation Center in the small town. Don asked the building’s owner if there was a commercial kitchen. And it just so happened, it had one that was not often used.
That was in January 2021, and Atomic chips have been made in that kitchen since.
The company name — Atomic — embraces the town from which they come. Arco, as Don explained, was the first city in the world to be powered entirely by atomic — or nuclear — energy in July 1955.
It is not just the name that the company gets from Arco, Don explained. The Arco community has “absolutely” helped Atomic Potato Chip Company establish itself and grow.
“If we weren’t in Arco right now, I don’t know where we’d be,” Don said. “We love Arco; they’ve been over-the-top supportive. … It’s a small town, everybody kinda knows everybody, and you help each other.”
Arco also offers a centralized location that allows Atomic to be present at farmer’s markets and similar events from Pocatello to Sunny Valley and everywhere in between.
In addition to farmer’s markets, orders can be made with Atomic and shipped. Don and Joanna are in the process of designing a website but are currently taking orders via phone call or text message.
Orders can be placed at (208) 220-7401.
You can also follow Atomic on Facebook — here — to keep up with their upcoming schedule and new flavors, which will soon include teriyaki, barbecue baked beans and clam chowder among others.
Small Town Spotlight wants to shine a light on all the good going on in small-town Idaho. If you know of someone or something in one of Idaho’s many small towns that deserve to be featured on Small Town Spotlight, email Kalama@EastIdahoNews.com and include “spotlight” in the subject line.