Sometimes it’s possible to stumble onto great educational experiences without really trying, and that’s what happened when we stopped in at the Route 11 Potato Chip Factory.
The Route 11 Potato Chip Company started out on its namesake road, but it has since moved to a newer, bigger location just off Interstate 81 in Mount Jackson, Virginia. The warehouse is the home to the entire company: offices, gift shop, and factory itself.
Route 11 welcomes visitors, but what makes the site really unique are the windows built into the walls of the gift shop. From that vantage point, you can look into nearly every part of the factory and see how the chips are made. On the day that we stopped in, the kind woman at the counter came out and explained the process to us. We learned about how the potatoes are purchased from individual farmers across the Eastern seaboard and how they’re turned into yummy potato chips.
The process is fascinating, and by moving from window to window you can see almost everything (the potatoes are washed and peeled in a separate room). By moving to a second-floor balcony, you can see into the seasoning room, where we watched two workers salting a batch of lightly-salted chips and turning them by hand.
The machinery that fries, flips, drains, and bags the chips were was fun to watch. Conveyor belts move the chips throughout the factory in batches, and although they start with 100 pounds of potatoes, 75 pounds of water cooks out!
The gift shop area includes a sampling table, where you can try many of Route 11‘s unique flavors. My Little Man loved that part the best! My Big Helper spent her time in conversation with our tour guide and admiring the t-shirts, jewelry, and other items on display in the shop.
Route 11 employs sustainable business practices, and this was especially interesting to us after touring TS Designs last week. They, too, recycle their frying oil. We were particularly excited about the picked-out chips, though. After frying, the chips are sent along a conveyor belt, where a worker inspects the quality of them all. If chips are found that are slightly under- or over-cooked, they’re tossed into a bucket. A nearly farmer comes by at the end of the day and collects those chips, and feeds them to his cows. I never knew that cows like potato chips!
If you’re ever driving through that section of Virginia, stop in and check out Route 11.
If Route 11 isn’t available in your area, you can try them out here: