If you live in the Chicagoland area—or even just the greater Midwest—you’ve probably eaten Jay’s Potato Chips.
What you might not know, however, is who is majorly responsible for them: Al Capone!
Seriously. According to Jay Shefsky, host of WTTW’s Jay’s Chicago, Al Capone had a hand in popularizing the potato chip. Back in 1927, Al was a friend and backer of Leonard Japp, the original founder of Jays Foods, a snack manufacturing company who provided Al’s speakeasies with salty snacks like peanuts. When Al went to New York and tried potato chips for the first time, he fell in love—and told Leonard to start making potato chips for his speakeasies pronto. In response, Leonard founded a famous Midwestern chip that continues to this day: Jay’s Chips. It was one of the first big companies to help popularize the potato chip around America—and the first company to make potato chips as we know them today, which are thin and crispy rather than thick and oily. Not only did Al encourage Leonard to make chips, but he gave him the capital to do so, and encouraged him to build factories, especially in Chicago. Without them, the potato chip as we know it might not be as popular as it is today. It’s a bizarre but interesting connection!
You can watch the full video—and learn more about Leonard’s connection to Al—by following this link to the WTTW clip in question (I tried to embed it and failed, sorry).
And if you want, you can learn more about the history of Jay’s Foods in Chicago at this blog post at South Side Weekly.