Sometimes it pays off to have a really specific passion. For “Toga Chip Guy” Alan Richer, a local historian and blogger, that payout hits this Sunday at 9pm. Richer, a historian and blogger who specializes in the discrete field of Saratoga Chip history, will appear on the second season of the History Channel’s The Food that Built America in an episode titled “Chip Dynasties.” The episode will tell the story of Charles Doolin and Herman Lay, founders of the Frito Company and Lay’s Potato Chips, respectively. When I talked with him, Richer offered up a teaser about the episode’s content: “Herman Lay used cutting-edge sales techniques and packaging technology to take his regional, small-time chips business to a national level. His empire was soon challenged by a rival innovator.” I’m no chip historian, but I’d wager the story of the rivalry ends in a merger (i.e. Frito-Lay) that becomes nothing less than a “chip dynasty.”
This season of The Food that Built America has been a long time coming—Richer’s interview took place in Brooklyn just before the COVID pandemic hit. (Episode air dates got pushed back several months because of the pandemic.) But if you think there could be only so much Richer could talk about in an interview about chips, or that answering chip-related questions would be some sort of cakewalk, you’d be wrong. “The Friday before the taping I received 100 questions,” Richer says. “I spent about 14 hours on both Saturday and Sunday researching and preparing answers that were organized in a notebook, and then three solid days trying to memorize all of my research. It reminded me of studying for my law school exams and the Bar Exam.” Luckily, Richer was allowed to reference his notes during the five-hour filming process, so, when the time came to pronounce “hyperbolic paraboloid” (the shape of a Pringle), he nailed it.
Speaking of Pringles (which, Richer discovered are mathematically shaped because of the involvement of an astronomer in their creation), the crunchy snack will be featured on a future episode of this season, though Richer doesn’t know when. He also heard that one of his quotes about franchises may have been included in yet another episode about Burger King.
In addition to the fame and fortune he’ll get from this TV stint (OK, maybe a bit of a stretch), Richer says all this research has provided a ton of content to pull from for his weekly blog, entitled “My View of the World Through the Prism of the Potato Chip.” Plus, he’s already been contacted by another television producer, an advertising company and a famous author-turned-podcaster, and is pursuing the opportunities they presented.
But, the big question remains: Did Richer mention Saratoga Springs, the rumored birthplace of the potato chip, during his moment in the spotlight? “I did discuss the various legends regarding the invention of the potato chip and the fact that the original generic name of the chip was the ‘Saratoga Chip,'” he says. “I also stated that, regardless of the various myths surrounding the invention, it is clear that the potato chip was promoted in Saratoga Springs, NY.” That it was.
Will our local lore be left on the cutting room floor? Tune in on Sunday (we recommend pouring a snack bowl of chips to crunch on for the full effect) to find out.