August is Colorado Proud month, a time to celebrate unique products like the chips from Morgan Handmade Rations, which are made exclusively from Colorado-grown potatoes.

August is Colorado Proud month, a time to celebrate unique products like the chips from Morgan Handmade Rations, which are made exclusively from Colorado-grown potatoes.

Owner Kyle Morgan slices and fries the potato chips himself using Harvest Moon potatoes grown by Rockey Farms, at Center, Colorado.

“I reached out to Brendon and Sheldon (Rockey) to use their potatoes, and we immediately clicked. Their product is unparalleled,” he said. “I chose to use the Harvest Moon potato, which has a purple skin and yellow flesh, because that’s the one they recommended when I asked them which potato varieties potato farmers eat.”

The naturally vibrant color of the potatoes helps set his product apart.

“It creates this beautiful chip that fries up nice and golden,” Morgan explained. “Often potato chips are a bland white color, but I really wanted to showcase the natural features of these potatoes. By keeping the skin on I get a nice purple ring on the chip.”

Morgan believes he is one of only two potato chip makers in Colorado, and the only one to source his potatoes from within the state.

Morgan said his commitment to supporting local farms is inspired in large part by a desire to honor his grandfather, who ran a dairy in Nebraska. And he chose to use the word “rations” in his company name in homage to his family’s military service. Growing up his dad was in the Navy; Morgan served his own stint in the Air Force before heading to California to get a degree from the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.

“I’ve been cooking on and off since I was 15, working in the sandwich deli my dad opened after he got out of the Navy,” he explained. “Being in the kitchen is like home to me.”

After culinary school, he worked for a year and a half in Denver “running the fires” at Acorn, a popular River North District restaurant, while operating a catering business on the side.

“I was making the chips for the restaurant daily and getting weirdly interested in it, including researching how to make better chips while I wasn’t at work,” he recounted. “Eventually I decided to pivot my catering company into a chip making company.”

Instead of trying to get into retail stores initially, he lit on the ingenuous idea of taking his product directly to the breweries proliferating up and down the Front Range.

“It’s easier to go door-to-door with them and sell the chips that way,” he said. “If you went to these breweries before I starting making my chips, the only snack options were typically popcorn and pretzel bites.”

So far his customers are located mostly in Denver, Loveland and Fort Collins.

“It took a few months to get some traction going, but once I introduced my new flavors it started going gangbusters. The breweries are starting to reach out to me now,” he said.

His flavors are unique, including one version that tastes like green chili.

“I developed it with the intention of doing it the way I make my pork green chili, with a lot of green chili, cumin, and vinegar powder. It’s a basic recipe, maybe five ingredients,” he described. “I don’t want to ever have to use anti-caking agents, just flavorings and spices.”

He calls his version of a barbecue-flavored chip “backyard cookout.”

“It has more smokiness to it and a little more bite,” he described. “There’s actually a lot of lime in it. I just took all the flavors you might have at a backyard cookout and put it into a chip.”

The third flavor he offers is honey, sage and onion.

Morgan currently goes through 150 to 200 pounds of potatoes a week and still slices them all by hand. “I’ve done tens of thousands of potatoes by now, so I’m fast,” he said with a smile. “I’ve played around with a couple of small machines, but so far I haven’t been able to get the consistency I want.”

As his business grows, one challenge is pricing.

“The difficult part is keeping it affordable while maintaining the premium quality,” he said. “I primarily sell my product in standard ounce-and-a-half size snack bags for $2.50, whereas my competitors typically charge $1.50 to 2.”

“You do save a lot on labor when it’s just yourself,” he added with another grin. “I’m the slicer, marketer, salesman and the IT guy.”

While he is still in start-up mode, he has bigger goals for the business in the months ahead.

“Eventually I want to take it statewide and even regional, but my mid-range goal is to set up my own shop offering the different products I make, and maybe have a small sandwich counter, in the same facility I use for production and distribution,” he explained.

Colorado’s support for local products is a big part of his success after eight months in operation, he noted.

“I’ve had so many people help me out and a great circle of friends who are usually available at the drop of a hat if I need them,” he said. “It’s been an amazing experience so far. I’m almost ready for that next step of getting into grocery stores and expanding from there.”