While most Americans consider all potato chips to be essentially the same, with only the flavor distinguishing the taste, those of us who live in Pennsylvania know better.
Nowhere is the art of crafting the perfect potato chip more apparent than in York, the “Factory Tour Capital of the World“. And while there are many different snack food companies in the area, my personal favorite is Martin’s Potato Chips.
Martin’s was started in 1941 by Fairy Martin. The story goes that she grew tired of her son always buying chips from the Utz family stand at the local market and decided that she could make better potato chips. So she did, and the rest is history.
From their humble beginnings in the Martin family kitchen, Martin’s Potato Chips has grown into a huge operation, producing over 1 million bags of potato chips and popcorn each month. Martin’s Potato Chips have grown so popular, that the last three Presidents have had them served on Air Force One.
Still family owned (though not by the Martin’s), Martin’s Potato Chips operates out of their factory in Thomasville, which is located in York County, just outside of York.
The Martin’s Potato Chip Factory Tour starts from the small on-site shop. Donning a hairnet to cover both my head and the scruff that I like to call a beard, I joined a group of seven other visitors and headed out for our tour of the factory.
Our first stop was the potato unloading zone beside the factory. Three delivery trucks arrive at the factory every day, each carrying 50,000 pounds of fresh potatoes. To quickly remove the potatoes, the entire truck is lifted off the ground and tilted backward, slowly depositing the potatoes into the waiting conveyor belt that takes them into the factory.
Following the potatoes, we entered the factory. Unlike many factory tours in the York area, the Martin’s Potato Chip Factory Tour actually lets you walk on the factory floor, albeit behind a roped off section to the side. Nevertheless, this allows you to get a close-up view of the potato chip cooking process.
Once the potatoes are inside the factory, their journey to becoming a potato chip starts. Potatoes start off in the peeling machine. Instead of peeling the skin though, the skin is sanded off; a process that ensures that as little of the potato is lost to peeling as possible.
Once peeled, potatoes are sliced, fried, cooled, and salted before being packaged. While I was expecting some sort of magical step in between, I was surprised to discover that even in a factory full of automated robots, the basic process of making a potato chip really hasn’t changed that much over the last 70 years.
The same could also be said for the popcorn that they manufacture on site. Popped in large air poppers, the process still requires an operator to measure out corn kernels, salt, and flavoring. He then dumps the bucket into the popper, waiting for a few minutes until the popcorn comes pouring out onto the conveyor belt, ready to be cooled and packaged.
The highlight of the tour though was the free samples. While many food factory tours give you free samples, very few take them right off the production line. The truth of the matter is that you haven’t lived until you’ve had straight from the production line potato chips.
Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but the still warm chips have a taste that can’t be preserved on grocery store shelves, no matter how fresh they are.
In my opinion, the Martin’s Potato Chip Factory Tour is a great activity for both young and old. I really enjoyed that the tour gave you the opportunity to view the cooking process from the floor, than from behind glass like many factory tours in the York area.
Unfortunately, being on the factory floor made it hard to hear the tour guide at times due to the loud noise of the machinery. That being said, the tour was still a great way to learn about the process of making potato chips, and I would definitely recommend it.
Taking the Martin’s Potato Chip Factory Tour
The Martin’s Potato Chip Factory Tour is conducted at their Thomasville factory just outside of York. Tours are conducted on Tuesdays only at 9am, 10am, and 11am.
Reservations are required, and can be made by calling 1-800-272-4477.
Martin’s Potato Chip Factory Tour
Hours: Tuesdays only at 9am, 10am, and 11am
Address: 5847 Lincoln Hwy W