Potato

A Bite-Size Look Back at the 40-Year History of Cape Cod Potato Chips

How the iconic brand went from a small storefront in Massachusetts to selling hundreds of millions of chips each year.

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August 10, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food & Prop Styling By Alexis Anthony.

We’ve partnered with Cape Cod® Potato Chips to celebrate their 40th anniversary with a crunchy look back at their decades-long history.


Since its humble beginnings in Hyannis, Massachusetts, Cape Cod Potato Chips has become a household name. Whether you’re enjoying a bag of their ridged Waves potato chips, tangy Sea Salt and Vinegar, or classic Original flavor, the foundational ingredients (just potatoes, salt, and oil) always shine through.

In honor of the company’s 40th anniversary this year, we’re taking a look back to see how Cape Cod Potato Chips grew from a small local storefront to one of the country’s best-known potato chip brands—all the while staying true to its New England roots.

From its founding in 1980, Cape Cod Potato Chips set out to make a snack made with select, quality ingredients (which hasn't changed over time). During the early years, they sold their chips at such a steady clip that the founders felt compelled to open a larger plant for production in Hyannis. More chips meant more customers and greater demand, and by 1984, the brand was widely available up and down the East Coast. The following year, they were distributing nationwide—finally, seasonal visitors to the Cape could find their favorite vacation snack at home. But that isn’t the only reason why 1985 was a landmark year for the brand.

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Five years after opening its storefront, Cape Cod Potato Chips began welcoming the public into its factory, a behind-the-scenes look at how its famous kettle-cooked potato chips were made. For the Original flavor, thickly sliced, select-quality potatoes are cooked to a golden hue in custom kettles at just-the-right temperature, then dusted with salt. The end of each visit is always celebrated with a sample of the brand's signature item: a handful of Cape Cod Potato Chips with unique, distinctive folds, imperfect in shape but absolutely perfect in their crunchy texture.

While working out of their small storefront in the early years, Cape Cod Potato Chips produced just about 200 bags per day. Since then, that output has climbed to 136 million bags each year, which today make their way to consumers across all 50 states.

Photo by Cape Cod Potato Chips

But even as Cape Cod Potato Chips grew, it maintained its New England heritage by employing imagery that’s inherently and geographically tied to the quintessential vibes of the Cape. As Boston.com reported, the now-iconic lighthouse design on the Cape Cod Potato Chips packaging is inspired by the real Nauset Lighthouse in Eastham, Massachusetts.

Owned by the National Park Service and boasting its own preservation society, the lighthouse has overlooked the Cape for more than a century. In that time, it has come to be a sort of symbol for the area, with its striking red-black-and-white colors reflecting Cape Cod’s distinctly nautical aesthetic—for both the region and the brand.

With skyrocketing production and strong New England ties, Cape Cod Potato Chips looked to another goal: perfecting the classic flavors we know and love. Over the years, they've developed tons of varieties, from bold, punchy options like their Sweet & Spicy Jalapeño to new-fashioned favorites, like their limited-edition Cape Cod Summer potato chips, a lemon and cracked black pepper flavor that's become a fan favorite during the warmer months.

Eventually they began experimenting with different textures and types of potatoes, too. In 2000, the brand debuted its Dark Russet chips, a slightly sweet, buttery alternative to its Original potato chip. Later on, they launched their extra-crunchy Waffle and Waves varieties (both great for dipping), which arrived in 2011 and 2018, respectively. With over 20 varieties of chips available now, Cape Cod Potato Chips has carefully expanded its product line to satisfy any flavor palate, with its nation-wide popularity serving as proof.

Of course, you need only look at the distinctively folded, one-of-a-kind chips that still make their way inside bag after bag of Cape Cod Potato Chips products to know that the brand's approach to making Hyannis’ most famous snack has always remained the same: Keep things simple and focus only on the best ingredients available.


What’s your favorite variety of Cape Cod Potato Chips? Tell us in the comments below!

To commemorate its 40th anniversary, Cape Cod Potato Chips is donating $40,000 to the Cape and Islands United Way to support their work toward food security in the community. Want to celebrate at home? Pick up a few bags of your favorite variety and share them with your closest pals (in a safe, socially distanced manner, of course). You can also snag their custom merchandise, including a limited-time anniversary capsule collection, at their new online shop.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Sara Coughlin is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. Although she writes about food, health, wellness, lifestyle trends, skin-care, and astrology, she’d much rather talk to you about professional wrestling, rock climbing, and her personal favorite true crime theories. You can find her in her studio apartment doing yoga while a pan of veggies gently burns in the oven.

4 Comments

Donald P. August 14, 2020
Great less fat kettle chips been eating for YEARS
 
nan J. August 12, 2020
Best potato chips ever.
 
FrugalCat August 11, 2020
I remember Cape Cod chips coming to Northern New Jersey in the mid 1980's. My mom and I were amazed at the difference between Cape Cods and "regular" chips. Thanks for this little bit of nostalgia. Now I can get Cape Cod chips all the way down to South Florida.
 
Lucy F. August 10, 2020
I've always loved Cape Cod Chips, but never knew the backstory!