The Upcycled History of Tater Tots

Jun 07, 2024Pulp Pantry
The Upcycled History of Tater Tots

From Scraps to Snack Royalty: The Trashy Tale of Tater Tots

Ever wondered how Tater Tots went from leftover scraps to a snack-time legend? Buckle up, because we're diving deep into the crispy, trashy history of how these golden bites were born!

The Grand Scheme

It’s 1954. F. Nephi Grigg and his brother Golden travel from a tiny Oregon border town to the luxurious Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami. Picture this: the dramatic sweeping curve of the hotel facing the infinite ocean, hundreds of lounge chairs laid out by the pool, and inside, the grand dining room where Nephi was about to make history.

The Grand Debut

Nephi’s grand debut? The 1954 National Potato Convention. Two stories below the dining room, he was sweet-talking the head chef into serving his new creation – 15 pounds of potato scraps turned into bite-sized pieces and fried to perfection. The chef finally agreed, and those golden beauties were served as samples. Tater Tots were officially born.

From Farm to Freezer Aisle

Back in 1953, the Griggs’ family potato plant in Northern Oregon was all about frozen corn and french fries – the big moneymakers of the frozen food aisle. Post-World War II, Americans were obsessed with heating up their dinners, and the Grigg brothers were after a chunk of the market.

Born in 1914, Nephi came of age during the Great Depression, and he wasn’t about to waste anything. “Bite off more than you can chew,” he wrote, “then chew it.” This high school dropout was ready to revolutionize the food industry with his no-waste mindset.

The Potato Problem

French fry production left a lot of scraps – slivers and small pieces that just couldn’t make the cut. Originally, these bits went to feed the family’s cattle. But Nephi saw potential in those scraps. He got creative with new machinery, smashing the bits together, blanching, forming, cooking them in oil, and freezing what would become the iconic Tater Tot.

The Tot Takeover

With the name trademarked and new machinery in place, Ore-Ida began mass-producing Tater Tots. Despite the sticky, complicated process, the brothers’ first Tater Tots sold the same year as their Potato Convention debut: 1954. By the 1950s, Ore-Ida had grabbed 25% of the frozen potato market, turning those leftovers into a lucrative business.

From Cattle Feed to Crunchy Gold

By 1964, Ore-Ida was making $31 million annually. In 1965, the Griggs sold the company to H.J. Heinz for $30 million. Fast forward to 2015, Heinz merged with Kraft Foods, and Tater Tots became as common as ketchup – a beloved snack known by all.

Nostalgia and Crunch

Today, Tater Tots are the hero of late-night bar binges and drab school lunches. Chefs across the country are creating fancified versions of the original snack to spice up menus. All this nostalgia helps make Tater Tots a beloved American craving. And it’s all because one man, with his no-waste Depression era mindset, didn’t want his hard-earned product ending up in a slop bin.

So, next time you munch on Tater Tots, remember their trashy origins. These golden bites are proof that even leftovers can be luxe.


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