Route 11 Potato Chips to double production

Rogelio Jose, a quality control employee at Route 11 Potato Chips, sorts through chips as they flow on the production line at the facility in Mount Jackson on Wednesday. The company plans to double its production line with help from a state grant. Rich Cooley/Daily

MOUNT JACKSON — County, state and town officials gathered at the Route 11 Potato Chips manufacturing facility for the announcement of new growth and investment by the company, which will double its production and create 13 new jobs within 18 to 24 months, on Wednesday afternoon.

Todd Haymore, the state secretary of agriculture and forestry, announced the company would invest $1.2 million in its facility to create a second production line for the facility, increasing its staff from 32 to 45.

Haymore said the company would receive a $50,000 grant from the state and another $50,000 grant from the county to kick-start the expansion through the Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund.

The announcement marks the 20th grant given to a business since the fund was created in 2012. Haymore said the fund is tailored according the specific needs of the company.

“When we created the fund, there was a thought that we would help some of the smaller businesses because in agriculture, a lot of these investments are in rural communities where 13 jobs and $1 million in investment is a big deal,” Haymore said.

Sarah Cohen, co-owner of Route 11 Potato Chips, smiles while speaking during a news conference Wednesday about plans for their expansion. Rich Cooley/Daily

He added, “The example I use is if this were Fairfax or Virginia Beach, $1 million and 13 jobs is still important, but it doesn’t move the needle. It moves the needle in Mount Jackson, it moves the needle in Shenandoah.”

To qualify for the grant, the company must make an investment, create jobs and source at least 30 percent of its product from Virginia farmers.

“Route 11 chips already buys about 45 percent of its potatoes from Virginia farmers, so they exceed that requirement,” Haymore said. “In this program, the average of using Virginia grown products amongst companies is 70 percent.”

Sarah Cohen, founder and co-owner of Route 11 Potato Chips, said when the company moved operations from Middletown to Mount Jackson in 2008, it made sure its facilities could handle an additional line.

“When we moved down here, we didn’t expect the economy to crash, so we’re a little behind on our expansion,” she said. “So it delayed us a little bit, but now we’re at a point where we can’t afford not to do it.”

Cohen said while the company focuses on sales in the mid-Atlantic region, it has become nationally recognized over the years. She estimated the plant produces thousands of bags a day and is set up to cook six days a week.

“Summertime is our busy season, so we cook all six days a week,” she said. “This will double our capacity and it will also give a backup in case one our machines breaks down … we had a cooker break down for a week in November and we were down for a week … if that would’ve happened in the summer, we would’ve been toast.”

Cohen said there’s a lot to do before the new line is added.

“There’s a series of things that have to happen before we get to that point and this grant jump starts that,” she said. “We need to expand our water treatment, expand our warehouse space, we have to wait for the equipment to be made … it’s a lot of moving parts.”

Cohen estimated it would take 18-24 months before the new production line would be operating. She said seeing her business expand over the years has been “surreal.”

“I started out with a cooker outside and now we’re to this point,” Cohen said. “It’s just crazy, but we’ve worked hard and stayed vigilant while we grow our business.”

Brandon Davis, director of community development for the county, said the expansion is a “big win” for the county.

“It’s a flagship business for Shenandoah County, it really adds to the culture of our community and it taps into our two biggest industries: agriculture and tourism,” Davis said. “Whenever we have a small business that grows like this in the county, seeing them grow more is always welcomed.”

Bucky Miller, mayor of Mount Jackson, said he was happy to hear the news.

“We’re blessed we have a lot of industry here,” Miller said. “I was on council when Route 11 chips came and it’s great to see them grow … today shows even the small towns move forward. It was a win-win for everybody.”

Members of the board of supervisors, the Mount Jackson Town Council, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Forestry and representatives from the Virginia General Assembly attended the news conference at the facilities store.

Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or hculvyhouse@nvdaily.com