Contact: Casey Richards
Walla Walla Union-Bulletin article spotlights Tim Kennedy, Potato Chip Pioneer "Tim's Cascade" turn Winemaker serves on the BMCF Board of Trustees!
You might wonder what tubers have in common with tannins.
For potato-chip-master-turned-winery-owner Tim Kennedy, they make excellent tasting companions.
He should know. Kennedy, the Athena native who put the "Tim" in Tim's Cascade Potato Chips when he founded the company in 1986, has made a post-snack-food career as a proprietor of Don Carlo Vineyard.
Visitors to the Milton-Freewater winery he and wife Lori introduced with their 2007 vintage have often been treated to Kennedy's special twist on food and wine.
It begins with a bag of Parmesan & Garlic flavored Tim's. The chips are heated in the oven and then served warm with the Don Carlo varietals.
Jalapeño—by far one of the most popular flavors made by the potato chip company—is not recommended for this, Kennedy said.
"It's my favorite. But it's not the best chip to wine taste with," he quipped.
Though retired from chips for over a decade now, Kennedy remains the Tim's ambassador. This year is a particularly special one. It's the 30th anniversary of Tim's Cascade Potato Chips.
Kennedy and Tim's General Manager Jeff Leichleiter kicked it off last month by passing out retro bags of the chips autographed by Kennedy during the Seattle Food & Wine Experience. They even brought back one of its retired flavors—Coney Island, made with mustard.
The celebration continues throughout the year with special events and promotions, including 30th anniversary gift giveaways at the Don Carlo tasting room in the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater.
Truth be told, Kennedy's deep career roots have helped on more than one occasion with his transition to grapes.
Already a pro with industry trade shows and connected to purchasing agents, Kennedy has benefitted from learning the ins and outs of retail long before he ever got into the wine trade.
Knowing the potato chip buyers in the big chains positioned him to meet some of the wine buyers who have helped Don Carlo get representation on shelves at QFC, Safeway and Fred Meyer stores, he said.
"Otherwise, the chances of me getting into grocery chains would be pretty nil as a boutique winery," Kennedy said.
But his own experience browsing the aisle of endless bottles of merlot and cabernet sauvignons always struck him for a couple of reasons.
One: He and Lori were always on the lookout for wines in the $20 range or less. And they always wondered how consumers who didn't know the wineries specifically would ever choose from the vast selections.
Consequently, their price point on chardonnay is $20 (the full-bodied red varietals are in the $34 range on the Amazon store), and their winery narrative is focused specifically on Lori's Italian family heritage and a tradition of winemaking that hearkens back to her relationship with her grandfather.
The road from Athena to potato chips was never expected to come full circle. Certainly Kennedy never imagined he'd make a return.
After getting his start at Nalley Fine Foods in Tacoma, he partnered with a trio of businessmen who included third-generation potato chip maker Horace Groff on what became the first kettle-style chip to make its Texas debut in Houston in 1983.
Kennedy ran production and was the purchasing agent for about three years before he longed to return to the Northwest.
He sold his shares in the company, took out a Small Business Administration loan, partnered with his brother-in-law and started Tim's.
His connections to purchasing agents helped introduce a Washington state kettle chip with big crunch and bold flavors, cooked exclusively in peanut oil.
The distribution side started with one driver and one truck, dropping off samples at convenience stores to help build a following.
It took hold. The chips in the signature red and white striped bags flew off shelves. Alderwood smoke barbecue and a range of other flavors that over time have included everything from Wasabi—which Kennedy introduced after an agent in Japan sent him home with package of Wasabi powder—to creamy cucumber and cracked pepper have been part of the lineup.
"You had to differentiate yourself from Frito Lay," Kennedy said of the flavors and texture.
In 1999, the company purchased the Hawaiian Brand Kettle Chips after the closure of Granny Goose.
A team of about 85 employees mans the warehouse in Algona, Wash. The distribution extends over 11 Western states plus Hawaii, Alaska, Canada and export markets of Japan, Taiwan and South Korea.
Kennedy has since switched from his ownership in chips to wine.
After the death of his first wife, he met Lori and brought her to his hometown to meet his parents.
He never imagined coming back, but the idea of a winery intrigued the couple. Lori earned her certification through Washington State University and continued with classes in vineyard management at UC Davis. Kennedy boned up, too, with blending classes.
Their winery—named for Lori's grandfather—is now totally vertically integrated as the two of them take on every job for their roughly 1,200-case operation.
While they continue to operate the tasting room, 83872 Don Carlo Way, by appointment only, the Milton-Freewater spot won't just be a place for swirling, sniffing and tasting this year. In commemoration of the journey from Tim's to Don Carlo, it will also be a place with plenty of crunch.