Cindy Styles isn’t afraid to admit it. She’s a huge fan of Mikesell’s potato chips.

In fact, Styles says, her passion for Mikesell’s potato chips is so intense that she packs several bags of chips on trips to visit her mother in Kentucky—and vacations to Tennessee.

That’s because the brand is not sold in those locations, she says. “They’re just that good,” says Styles. “They are amazing.”

And she’s not the only fan of Mikesell’s potato chips. Emily Thompson is such a huge fan of Mikesell’s potato chips that she has family members ship them to her home in Utah, more than 1,600 miles away from where the chips are made fresh every day at 333 Leo St. in Dayton.

“I just really enjoy Mikesell’s quality of taste,” she says. Thompson fell in love with Mikesell’s potato chips when she munched on them as a child when her family visited grandparents in Indiana.

“I guess part of it as well for me is the nostalgia,” says Thompson. “You know, like recalling all the good times going back to Indiana to visit my grandparents and taking them on picnics and on trips to the lake and that kind of thing.”

It’s customers like Styles and Thompson that have kept the Mikesell’s Snack Food Co. in business for 107 years, says Luke Mapp, the company’s executive vice president of operations.

“That brand loyalty … it really is amazing,” says Mapp. “We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that.”

Not only is the company still “here,” it’s been headquartered in Dayton since Daniel W. Mikesell and his wife opened a business selling dried beef and sausages on South Williams Street in 1910. That same year Mikesell bought some potato chip equipment and the Mikesell’s Potato Chip Co. was established.

It is now the oldest continuously run potato-chip company in the country, says Mapp, the great-grandson of Mikesell. The privately held snack food manufacturing company distributes products such as potato chips, pretzels, corn products, pork rinds and dips, he says.

The company’s products are sold in parts of Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Illinois. Recently, Mikesell’s products began distribution globally, mostly to the Asian markets, says Mapp. 

What’s ironic about that, he says, is that it’s sometimes easier to sell products internationally than in the U.S. The company at one time had a presence in West Virginia, Tennessee and Michigan, but had to pull its products out of those areas due to a lack of sales. “Breaking into new markets isn’t always the easiest task,” says Mapp.

Breaking into new markets is even harder lately, he says, because grocers have centralized their buying operation. Years ago when small, local grocery stores were mainstays in the community Mikesell’s representatives were able to provide great service and foster a relationship with those grocers, says Mapp.

“We had the ability back then to go in and talk to store managers and get displayers up on the floor and get features out and that’s much more difficult now,” he says. “All of that is controlled now through a central office.”

The grocery stores’ centralized buying process has also created another challenge for small, privately owned snack food companies, Mapp says. Most grocery stores now want national snack brands, like Lay’s potato chips from Frito-Lay, on their shelves, he says.

“It makes it much more difficult for the small guys to compete,” Mapp says. “We certainly do everything we can to compete, but we try to compete on quality and on price.”

The company also competes by developing new flavors for its products. Mapp says every year the company has an “innovation day” with its seasoning supplier to look at what industry trends are hot and different types of seasoning ingredients.

The supplier offers some ideas it thinks might work and company officials then bring those with the most potential back to the office for internal and event taste testing.

For every 10 new flavors developed maybe one will be presented to retailers, Mapp says. Some of the recent flavors introduced include Cincinnati-style chili and beer-can chicken potato chips and salted caramel puffcorn, he says.

Mikesell’s has about 10 different flavors of potato chips, Mapp says, including its most popular, honey barbecue. Second on the list of most popular flavors is the Good’n Hot. “That one has come up a lot in the past years,” he says. And green onion flavored always sells well, says Mapp.

Green onion is the flavor that tickles Styles’ taste buds the most. “That is my favorite flavor,” she says. But Styles has an unusual style to eating her green-onion flavored potato chips.

“There’s nothing better that green onion potato chips on a turkey sandwich,” says Styles. “Turkey, cheese, mayonnaise and green onion potato chips. You cannot beat it. It’s the best.”

As for Thompson she’s more of a traditionalist. “I guess I’m pretty partial to the original,” she says. “I just like the plain, old flavor.”

There might be a few more Mikesell’s customers in Utah who will soon be ordering the original flavor of potato chips through the company’s Chipper Shipper program. That’s because Thompson decided to share some of her Mikesell’s potato chips with her co-workers one day. They immediately started eating them and kept going back for more all day long, says Thompson.

“They said, ‘This is so good! Where did you get this?’” says Thompson. “I was like, ‘Well, it’s actually from Ohio,’ so they were kind of disappointed about that. They said they were the best potato chips they’ve had.”

With satisfaction like that it’s not hard to see Mikesell’s Snack Food Co. still cranking out potato chips in Dayton for another 107 years.

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