The other day on Facebook, I was combing through the “archives” of one of my friends—a gal I matriculated with in the halls of Ravenswood Penitentiary—to determine how she sustained an injury to her ankle (she had just got the cast off) when I saw that she became a fan of (or “likes”—the Facebook people have changed their terminology) The Official Mister Bee Potato Chip Company page. (Ray “Flickhead” Young…if you’re reading this, you’ll definitely want to turn away because I’m going to be talking about something most unhealthy.) Of course, I had to “click like” this page myself, because there is nothing on the Creator’s somewhat-green planet that is tastier than this brand of salty snacks manufactured in my native state of wild, wonderful West Virginia.
While I’ve mentioned “Mister Bees” in passing on the blog, I don’t think I’ve ever really gone into detail about the history of the potato chip company, which was established in Parkersburg, WV (in the Mid-Ohio Valley—my hometown of Ravenswood is about a half-hour from there) in 1951 by Leo and Sara Klein. It was—if you’ll pardon the pun—small potatoes, company-wise, for many years until 1972 when it became a million-dollar business…and under their son Alan, the company grew five times its size the following year. (This would have been a year after my family moved to Ravenswood from our former Teays Valley stomping grounds…coincidence? I think not…) Klein became Chairman of the Board of the Potato Chip/Snack Food Association in 1985—his business being the “smallest company” to ever produce an Association chairman. Alan’s son Doug is now running the operation as President and Chief Operating Officer, and the company’s product is sold exclusively in West Virginia, parts of Ohio and eastern Kentucky.
But enough of this capitalistic propaganda. Simply put, Mister Bee Potato Chips are the best damn potato chips in the world, bar none. Yes, I realize that I am extremely biased, being a native Mountaineer, and that everybody has his or her particular regional favorites (many of my PA friends are gaga over Utz, something that just makes me scratch my head in bewilderment) but I’d match Mister Bees against any other potato chip any day of the week. But just don’t take my word for it—here’s solid, documented scientific proof courtesy of YouTube:
I can’t honestly remember a time when I didn’t have my hand in a bag of Mister Bees; when I was younger (and thinner), I used to stop by a Mom-and-Pop grocery store that was a stone’s throw from my elementary school and get a bag of them on my walk home…they cost me a quarter back then (I imagine the price has probably gone up considerably). I later learned that when my mother (a native New Englander) briefly lived in Vienna, WV (a town right smack-dab up against Parkersburg) in the 1950s that she would do the same thing at her local hangout (you know, the jernt run by “Pop” Tate of Archie comic-book fame).
When the family and I relocated to Savannah, GA in 1983 I truly missed not being able to purchase them (of course, I moved back to WV in 1992 for eight years of potato chip bliss); the only chip that came close to the taste of a Mister Bee was Frito-Lay’s Delta Gold brand that was briefly introduced in 1985 and then pulled when the company learned that I liked them. Here’s something I found on YouTube—a vintage Delta Gold commercial (I wonder if the guy hawking the chips ever found real work?):
When Mater and Pater make their yearly pilgrimage to the Mountain State for the Shreve Family Reunion (or as I have frequently referred to it, “The Driest Weekend of the Year”) they’re usually good about bringing back a few bags of the precious chips…but I remember biting into some about four years ago and thinking they tasted strange. I learned not too long after that the company changed the recipe in March 2006, switching from the original blend of soybean and cottonseed oils to 100% cottonseed (eliminating the trans fats found in soybean oil). The company’s customers bitched about the switch (Klein went on record as saying: “Some people who called said that if they wanted to eat healthy, they wouldn’t be eating potato chips”) and I later heard that they went back to the original recipe (I tried to find a story to confirm this, but couldn’t locate one on the Internets); the last time I ate some of the chips (this would have been last year) they tasted fine. (Either they returned to the old formula…or I got used to the change.)
Anyway, the ‘rents and I will head up West Virginia way in June and as I stated on the Facebook page, I plan to bring back as many bags “as my fat little arms can carry.” Sure, I could purchase Mister Bees online—but the previous time I did that they weren’t packed well and several of the bags had a rather large busted-up crumbs ratio…if you get my meaning. Besides, I’ll need some Broughton’s French Onion Dip to go with these bad boys—another product (the dairy is based in Marietta, Ohio; a stone’s throw from Parkersburg) I can’t get down this way. (My pal Jenni suggested the onion dip purchase; she has access to Mister Bees where she lives in Morgantown but Broughton is, alas, missing in action in her neck of the swamp.)
Well, I suppose it’s only right that I let the Mister Bee people have the last word…and if they want to send me some freebies for promoting their product, operators are standing by…