About five years ago, Jeanne and Matt Rue were frying batches of chips in a deep fryer from their Clark County farm and selling them at local farmer’s markets and festivals.
Now, Rue Farms Rustic Potato Chips are sold across at least seven states in the Midwest at national chains including Kroger, Whole Foods and Fresh Thyme Farmers Market. The couple has since sold their farm and now live in a recreational vehicle parked beside their new warehouse, where they host a series of outdoor bluegrass concerts throughout the summer.
Big Lots sold their chips nationwide on a one-time basis, and chains like Food City and Meijer could potentially extend their presence across the East Coast and South.
Despite their success, the family still manages the entire business, including making sales and unloading trucks, on their own with no full-time employees.
“It’s been a wild ride but we’re still kicking it and we’re still learning every day,” Jeanne Rue said during an interview at the company’s new facility at 3822 Springfield-Xenia Road.
The pair didn’t even eat potato chips when the business started but they wanted to find a use for a deep fryer their daughter bought them for a Christmas present. They first made a small batch of chips to sell at an online farmer’s market in Champaign County, then moved on to events like selling at the Yellow Springs Street Fair.
The business really took off when they were told if they wanted to keep making chips in bulk, they needed to do so in a Food and Drug Administration-approved facility.
The couple got some assistance from Mikesell’s Potato Chip Co., where they rented space, and before long they were selling first at small, local grocers and eventually chains like Whole Foods. They’ve since outgrown Mikesells and now work with Martin’s Potato Chips in Pennsylvania to produce their chips, which include flavors like Dill Herb, Backwoods BBQ and Pink Himalayan Salt.
They didn’t expect the business to take off so rapidly, but it’s often been a complicated process as well, Jeanne Rue said.
“For us to compete with the big dogs we’re still having to re-sell our product to a new face all the time,” she said.
The couple now runs their business from a roughly 11,000-square-foot facility they purchased at the end of 2016. More than a year later, they’re still making improvements on the building and roughly 6.5-acre property. The business now includes a retail space in front and warehouse space where pallets of chips are stacked before moving on.
They’re still looking for space in the retail store to display the original deep fryer.
“It’s pretty nice to know your chips were sold in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.,” Matt Rue joked about how fast they’ve expanded.
Outside the business, Jeanne Rue pointed out an RV and a wooden concert stage where they host the Rue Farms Outdoor Concert Series, which includes performances from country, bluegrass and gospel groups throughout the summer. Between working long hours and managing the concerts, the couple decided it was easier to simply live in the RV parked outside the warehouse. It’s not unusual for them to work until midnight.
“We haven’t watched TV since we sold the farm and left there,” she said.
Their connection to the local bluegrass music scene has been particularly fun in the meantime, Matt Rue said. They first hosted a CD release party for Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers, and the first show drew 1,000 people to their property. The business also now sponsors the Southern Ohio Indoor Music Festival held twice a year in Wilmington.
They’ve been so busy it sometimes seems like they’ve run the business for 20 years, Jeanne Rue joked. They still have plans to sell their chips nationwide eventually, and it’s hard for them to fathom that it’s only really been about five years, she said.
“In a two- to three-year period, we’ve really blown the doors off,” she joked.