Bernard left his job installing custom car sunroofs and accessories, bought a potato slicer, and launched Cape Cod Potato Chips. Shortly afterward, Lynn joined her husband in his new business, turning the natural foods store over to her sister and co-owner, Darby Ziruk. Ziruk continues to run the business today under the name Organic Market, with stores in Chatham, Dennisport, and Mashpee.

“Everyone thought it was crazy,” Dawes says of her father’s idea. “We had nothing, and now he was risking what little he had on this crazy idea. There was no craft food industry back then, just huge food companies.”

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Photo by: Matt Gill

An unfortunate accident on a cold January day in 1981 when Dawes was 8 years old turned out to be the turning point for the business. According to Dawes, a man had a fatal heart attack at the wheel of a car, which subsequently crashed through the front window and into the store, right where she had been standing a moment before. “It’s a miracle I didn’t die,” she says. “My parents had just risked everything—our whole future—on a chip startup. We didn’t have much money. Now there was a car sitting in the middle of the store, glass covering everything. I was 8 and scared. This memory has stuck with me for the rest of my life.”

But because of that accident, Dawes says, her father received some insurance money. On top of that, the accident made the news, and suddenly people were hearing about Cape Cod Potato Chips. “The company made it to the next summer,” Dawes says, “and my parents never looked back after that.”

In 1985, Anheuser-Busch bought the company; a decade later, Bernard bought it back, but sold it to Lance Inc. in 1999. In 2010, Lance merged with Snyder’s of Hanover to become Snyder’s-Lance, one of the largest snack food companies in the country—and the current owner of Cape Cod Potato Chips.

Visitors to the Hyannis plant today can follow the painted seagull tracks from the parking lot to the factory, where they can watch these iconic snacks being sliced, cooked, salted and bagged through a series of windows overlooking the production floor. The tour finishes with a stop in the gift shop, where every available flavor is on sale—along with chip-related paraphernalia ranging from T-shirts to sand toys.

Cape Cod chips come in a variety of styles and flavors. Original, reduced fat, and sea salt and vinegar are the most popular, according to Cheryl Mathias, the Hyannis plant’s retail manager. Some flavors, such as Back Bay Crab, are “limited batch,” meaning the chips are here today, gone tomorrow. New flavor ideas are developed from food trends and even from customers’ suggestions.

One detail that strikes a visitor on the self-guided tour is the amount of hands-on quality control that goes into the potato chip production process. While the gleaming kettles, centrifuges, and conveyors are impressive, significant human intervention is still prevalent at every step. Even before the trucks are unloaded, the potatoes are sampled for density, temperature, size, and defect level, says Lauren Ulrey, brand manager at Snyder’s-Lance. A random sampling of the potatoes in each load is cored, peeled, and then cooked to determine how the potato will chip. From there, the potatoes are peeled with a brush peeler and then inspected by eye once again.