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A good potato chip potato is about three-and-a-quarter inches big and has a low sugar content so it doesn’t turn brown when fried, said Jeff Leichleiter, co-founder of Tim’s Cascade Style Potato Chips.

Leichleiter retired from Tim’s July 15, after 30 years working for the company. He and his wife, Ann, live on a sustainable farm in Ellensburg.

Leichleiter grew up in Boardman, Ore., where he used to run a potato digger and work at a french fry factory during high school. After he graduated, he signed up with the Army Corps of Engineers and served eight years.

After his eight years, Leichleiter was considering what to do next with his life when he connected with Tim Kennedy, a former member of the Navy, in Houston, through mutual friends. Kennedy had started a potato chip business and asked Leichleiter to help him and he agreed.

Kennedy and Leichleiter, both former residents of Oregon, wanted to move back to the Pacific Northwest, so they moved the business to Auburn on Pike and 15th Street.

“We started with one small hand kennel,” Leichleiter said. “Within two years we had two 360-pound cookers running 24/7 to keep up with demand.”

Leichleiter didn’t have any experience making potato chips when they started the business.

“I knew how to eat ‘em,” he said.

Once production started, Leichleiter and Kennedy began a guerilla marketing campaign, attending Seattle events and handing out free bags of potato chips. Eventually companies like Safeway started picking them up.

Leichleiter handled the operations side of the business, dealing with the permits, marketing and buying the potatoes.

After three years they were bought out by the Curtis-Burns Foods company of Rochester, N.Y. Tim’s is now owned by the Pinnacle Foods Company, but is still operated locally, Leichleiter said, even as it has expanded across the globe.

Leichleiter moved up through the ranks of the company over the following years, he said. When Kennedy retired 11 years ago, Leichleiter took over. When Leichleiter retired, he was running three potato chip companies in three states as vice president and general manager for Tim’s Cascade Snacks.

Local quality

It takes 3.7 pounds of potatoes to make one pound of potato chips, Leichleiter said.

The thing that makes Tim’s chips so good, he said, is because the company starts cooking the potatoes at a lower temperature and slowly raises the heat. Other chips are fried at a continuous temperature.

Using local potatoes, oil and spices is essential, he added.

Tim’s still has three of its original potato growers in Washington, including growers in the Ellensburg area, but now buys a lot of its product from Portland and California. The company tries to buy as locally as possible. It’s about having an environmental focus, Leichleiter said.

There’s something special about Washington potatoes, he said. The soil packs are different in Washington and the potatoes have more salt and less sugar.

“I think it tastes better,” Leichleiter said.

Sustainable farming

Leichleiter took that local environmental focus and bought a homestead in Ellensburg 10 years ago to start a sustainable farm.

He and Kennedy also are business partners in a winery in Walla Walla.

“I started young enough so I’m still physically able,” said Leichleiter, who is 56.

Leichleiter and his wife tore down an old homestead and rebuilt it from the bottom up. They put in a windmill and then cut up an old grain silo to grow strawberries. They then took some claw foot bathtubs and started growing jalapenos and tomatoes inside of them.

Liechleiter eventually plans to start growing potatoes.


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