Hello, Mr. Chips. In Hawaii, the one man who can legitimately answer to that name is Dewey Kobayashi, 50, the brains behind the near-legendary Kitch’n Cook’d potato chips. Every Wednesday customers flock to Mac’s Market in Honolulu to pay $1.65 for a seven-ounce bag (the limit is one) of Kobayashi’s thick, greasy, old-fangled chips. Checks accompanying mail orders from all over the United States have to be returned. Offers by conglomerates to buy out Kitch’n Cook’d for upwards of $1 million are constantly declined.
Kobayashi insists that his 21-year-old business on the island of Maui remain strictly a family operation. (Only three people know the secret recipe: Dewey, his father and brother.) “To be my own boss is a dream I’ve realized,” says Kobayashi. “And working together keeps the family close. There’s other wealth besides money.”
Kobayashi is the son of Japanese immigrants who came to Hawaii in the 1920s. He was working as a mechanic in a pineapple factory when he and his parents began experimenting in the basement, making chips in a kettle. They began to catch on with the tourist boom 14 years ago, but it wasn’t until 1971 that Kobayashi quit the pineapple factory to devote himself to Kitch’n Cook’d full time.
Today Kobayashi’s 12-woman factory turns out 1,000 pounds of potato chips a day, grossing $400,000 annually. The potatoes are brought in from northern California and cooked in huge vats of cottonseed oil. Packaging is entirely by hand. With the exception of Mac’s Market, the chips are sold only on Maui. And that’s the way things are likely to stay. Dewey is just a chip off the old block, and as his father, 72-year-old Yoshio Kobayashi, puts it, “I want to die making chips—and playing golf.”