Jim Shulman | Baby Boomer Memories: Linden Street's popular potato chip company
Although popcorn has always been my favorite snack food, I have to admit that freshly made, thin-sliced potato chips is a close second.
Usually, as kids in the 1950s, we'd settle for a nickel bag of State Line Potato Chips from the corner variety store. But the freshest chips came in a brown paper bag and were made right at the M&G Potato Chip Co.'s Chip Shop at 5 Linden St., a favorite "up street" stop.
The initials stood for the surnames of the partners: Ambrose Martin and Otto Grunow. Ambrose was the chief cook, responsible for peeling, slicing and frying the potato chips. Otto was the outside man, responsible for marketing, sales and deliveries.
Otto's son, Bruce, recalls his dad was in the potato chip business as far back as he can remember, at least to the 1930s. (The business opened June 6, 1934.) Bruce started working in the business as a youngster, helping fill brown nickel bags and stapling them shut. He shared that at one point when he was older, he quit working for his dad because he was only being paid 45 cents an hour. A few doors down the street, working at Kappy's Ice Cream (luncheonette), he could make 60 cents an hour. (Otto's wife, Jessie, owned Clarice's Corset Shop at 445 North St. The back doors of both businesses opened to the same parking area.)
Ambrose made the chips in a big fryer in the shop. As he got older, Bruce helped with the peeling. They had three sections in the shop: an automatic peeler, an automatic slicer and the fryer.
Working the very sharp peeler, young Bruce had to be careful not to peel his skin. Otto did not make any of the chips himself. Every morning, he would load up his 3/4-ton panel truck and deliver the fresh chips to bars and restaurants in the Berkshires, Canaan and Albany in New York, Bennington, Vt., and many towns in between.
In addition to peddling and delivering 1-pound bags of chips, Otto carried other bar supplies, such as olives, cherries and bar glasses.
"My dad went into every bar in the city and never had a drink in them," Bruce said.
During World War II, the partners could not get potatoes locally. They had to get ration stamps and drive to Maine to get potatoes, which they would store in a barn at the home of the partners at 12 Gale Ave.
The Chip Shop was always a place to purchase fresh chips as far back as I could remember. But on one visit home from college in the mid-1960s, I found the shop was no longer open. I learned that Ambrose had not been in good health and had passed away in 1963, at the age of 60.
This veteran chip-maker never married, and hence did not have children to take over his specialty. Otto was not interested in making the product, and his three sons were pursuing other careers. (Bruce, who had worked in local banks after a stint in the service, eventually became the owner of the Wellington Funeral Home.) So, the M&G Potato Chip Co. closed forever after 30-plus years in business.
With his customers, contacts and experience, Otto went to work as a regional salesman for the Wachusett Potato Chip Co. (Interestingly, this firm's main plant was located in the former Worcester County Jail!) Otto retired in 1969 and died in 1984, at the age of 84.
Several years ago, Bruce Grunow had shared with me memories of Pittsfield's only potato chip company, but said he never had regrets for not going into the business. Bruce passed away in May 2018, at the age of 85. The M&G Chip Shop location had become home to many small businesses over the years. Most recently, it was a barbershop and then a hair salon. I always wondered if the great smell of fresh chips comes forth now and then.
Jim Shulman, a Pittsfield native living in Ohio, is the author of "Berkshire Memories: A Baby Boomer Looks Back at Growing Up in Pittsfield." If you have a memory of a Berkshire baby-boom landmark, business or event you'd like to share or read about, please write Jim at email@example.com.
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