Book serves up chip history

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published November 4, 2015


Ever wonder why you can only buy Better Made chips and snacks in Michigan?

Local author Karen Dybis’ book, titled “Better Made in Michigan: The Salty Story of Detroit’s Best Chip,” delves into the history of potato chips in Detroit, which includes the 85-year-old Detroit-based, family-owned Better Made Snack Foods. She tells how Cross Moceri and Pete Cipriano worked during the day and made the chips in their kitchens at night in the ’20s, selling them door to door, on streetcars and in parks, including Belle Isle.

History Press, the publisher, recently merged with Arcadia Publishing, which published the “Images of America” series that included “Troy: A City From the Corners.” 

Dybis said she became interested in telling the story of “potato chipping” after she interviewed Nick Nicolay, CEO of Kar’s Nuts, based in Madison Heights. Nicolay mentioned that his grandfather owned and operated New Era, a Detroit-based potato chip company, and said there were over 20 potato chip companies in Detroit at one time.

In her research, Dybis learned that there were closer to 40 potato chip companies in the area.

She explained that New Era merged with Lay’s Chips at the end of the 1950s, and the founders and heirs of New Era created a scholarship fund at Adrian College.

“Russell Dancey, founder of New Era, wasn’t able to attend college and started the scholarship,” Dybis said.

Dancey’s daughter, Betty Godard, expanded the scholarship fund by donating $2 million.

“She targets her scholarship for kids who otherwise can’t go to college,” Dybis said.

Dybis said the book takes the reader through the process, from growing and buying the potatoes to cooking, selling and marketing them. It explores the histories of other potato chip companies that were based in Detroit, including Vita-Boy, Superior, Everkrisp, Wolverine, Krun-Chee, Mello Crisp and Yankee Potato Chips. She also talks about Better Made from its beginnings in 1930 to today.

She said Better Made uses Michigan potatoes, Michigan salt and oil from the U.S.

“They process the chips solely at the Detroit location,” Dybis said. “So chips you buy at the store have been there one to two weeks at most.”
She said that while Better Made is a great success story, the company took many twists and turns.

Dybis said she learned that Moceri and Cipriano fought quite a bit and disagreed on how to run the company, “which caused some problems for Better Made, which is the main reason you can only buy Better Made chips in Michigan,” Dybis said. “Cross (Moceri)  wanted to grow the business, but Pete (Cipriano) did not.

“If the two partners had got along better, they would have been able to expand,” Dybis said. “They ran a good company. They couldn’t agree to go any further.” 

“We know from emails we receive and postings on our Facebook page that some people are very interested in the history of Better Made,” Mark Winkelman, president of Better Made Snack Foods, said in an email. “We hear so many stories from folks about when they were kids and their parents took them down Gratiot to our plant to look through the windows to see the chips being made. I think those visits are a big part of the collective memories of Detroiters. They remember those visits fondly, and having the history of the company in book form will appeal to many, many people.”

“You can still stand and watch it,” Dybis said of the process of the chips being made. “It’s a big part of people’s childhoods.”

Dybis will sign copies of  “Better Made in Michigan: The Salty Story of Detroit’s Best Chip” 1-3 p.m. Nov. 14  at the Detroit Shoppe at Somerset Collection, 2800 W. Big Beaver Road. Better Made will pass out small bags of Better Made potato chips while supplies last.
The book is also available at stores, including City Bird in Detroit and Barnes & Noble, and online at Barnes & Noble, Amazon and Better Made’s website, www.better