When I was in culinary school in Alabama back in the 90s we took a field trip to the Golden Flake potato chip factory in the Titusville neighborhood near UAB’s campus in Birmingham.
At the end of the tour we were given paper sacks filled with Golden Flake potato chips that were still hot from the fryolators. They were the best potato chips I’ve ever eaten and light years beyond the ‘normal’ Golden Flake chips that you can buy in any gas station in the Deep South.
Last week it was announced that Utz, the northeast snack behemoth, has purchased Golden Flake marking an end to southern ownership for one of the South’s iconic brands.
It’s a sad day in Birmingham.
Golden Flake began it’s life as Magic City Foods, born in the basement of Hill’s Department store in downtown Birmingham in 1923. Mose Lischkoff and Frank Mosher were the founders of the company but it wasn’t long before a worker expressed interest in buying out Lischkoff’s share of the business.
That employee Helen Friedman would go on to marry Frank Mosher in 1928, and when that marriage inevitably ended in divorce Ms. Friedman walked away with full ownership of the company.
Fritz Lang could have done a remarkable job filming a movie based on the early days of what would become Golden Flake.
The ambitious Friedman cashed out in 1946 when she sold her business to the Bashinsky family for $1 million. A decade later Sloan Bashinsky bought his family member’s interest out and became sole owner. He changed the name of the concern to Golden Flake a scant year later.
Sloan Bashinsky would be the human engine that drove the economy of Golden Flake for the next five decades. A notoriously sharp and frugal businessman, Sloan watched industry overlords Frito Lay carefully and often mimicked their maneuverings. When the Texas company launched a cheese chip called O’Grady in 1985, Bashinsky quickly brought his own version called Au Gratin to market saying “We’ve been watching O’Gradys cheese chips for a year. This month we’ll introduce Au Gratin. Frito spent over $50 million researching O’Gradys. We didn’t spend anything.”
As the 90s dawned Mr Bashinsky began to think about the long-term stewardship of his company. Neither son expressed interest in becoming a snack food magnate so he turned to John S. Stein, a worker who’d been with Golden Flake since the 1960s. Stein’s reign began in 1991 and ran a full decade before he retired in May 2002.
News of the sale of Golden Flake to a northern interest rocked Birmingham media with some vowing to never buy one of those ‘goddam Yankee potato chips’
This coming in spite of Utz’s vows to continue business as usual at both the Birmingham factory and the Ocala Florida plant.
Alabamians are fiercely loyal to their region’s goods so it remains to be seen if Golden Flake’s sales will dip across the state.
On recent visits to the heart of Dixie, I can attest to the company’s vast market penetration. Golden Flake is wall to wall in every single quick mart and grocery store. You see other heavyweight marques as well but Utz will have to screw up big time to erase the decades of good will the brand has built.
Some dense reading here but good historical info on Golden Flake