Chipping In For Fun And Profit

Linda Dela Cruz
Wednesday - April 16, 2008
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Jimmy Chan at Hawaiian Chip Company
Jimmy Chan at Hawaiian Chip Company

You can’t stop at just one.

Jimmy Chan, owner of Hawaiian Chip Company, can’t have only one line of chips. So he’s introducing a Wasabi flavor shrimp chip.

“This way it never gets dull,” says Chan, a Waiakea High School grad. “I’m also looking to get the product in more stores locally and on the Mainland, starting in Los Angeles and other areas where there are lots of locals.”

His products already on the market include original taro chips, zesty garlic taro chips, kiawe barbecue taro chips, original sweet potato chips, zesty garlic sweet potato chips and Mauna Kea sweet potato chips. For those who like it spicy, he created the Kilauea fire sweet potato and taro chip combination. The chips are available at Longs, Times, 7-Eleven and other stores.

One of the challenges of running a business, Chan says, is balancing his personal and professional lives, and finding time to do things outside of work.

“Even finding time to actually sit down and have lunch is something someone complained that I don’t do,” he admits. “I go through the drive-through and eat on the way to someplace.”

But it’s no wonder Chan concentrates on the firm. “I’ve always wanted to start a business since I was a kid,” he says.

He actually got into the chip business by accident.

Chan, who loves to cook, was watching Emeril Lagasse cook some special chips and thought they would be a nice snack. So when some of his fellow Big Islanders wanted to start a restaurant together, he said he would do the chips as part of it. When the restaurant idea didn’t go through, he plowed ahead with the chips.

After he got his bachelor’s in speech communication from the University of Hawaii, he worked at Walden Books while launching his Hawaiian Chip Company in 1999. The first product was original flavor sweet potato chips, which were sold at gift and craft stores.

Jeff Yoshioka, a Hilo High School grad and one of the original members of the team that started the company, serves as the director of sales and marketing.

“Now that I’ve got the chip company, I don’t cook at all,” he says laughing.

Chan credits his family, friends and staff for their support, and especially his parents John and Mary, and his sister Lisa. With a total of eight part- and full-time employees covering everything from paperwork to peeling potatoes, he’s increased production from frying chips only two days a week to six.

What makes his company successful, he says, is that his employees take pride in their work, and he likes to have a lighter attitude and have fun. An example of his fun-loving and jovial nature came during the interview for this article, when he suggested we publish the cell number of his director of sales. Then he asked if he could wish his sister and his worker a happy birthday. Just like eating chips, you can’t stop at just one good chuckle.

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