ROSWELL, Ga. – When Sean McDonough decided to get into the restaurant business by launching the Roswell Tap, little did he realize it would lead him to another business altogether and a partnership with “Blue Collar TV” comic Jeff Foxworthy.
A simple search for a good American chip started it all, McDonough said. After selling his business of more than 20 years, McDonough wanted to open a restaurant and bar that served good American food.
“I challenged my chef, Nancy Taylor, to come up with some good American snack foods. One of the things she tried was salsa and chips, but I told her that wasn’t American enough. So she and her mother, Elena, cooked up some chips using grits,” McDonough said.
The chips turned out to be a big hit with the customers. It might have ended there, but McDonough was asked by a colleague in his former career if he would consult with a client of his.
“Well, when you’re starting a new business, especially a restaurant, you don’t turn down a chance to make some money,” he said.
It so happened the client turned out to be Jeff Foxworthy of “Blue Collar TV” and “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader” fame. As a result, McDonough became acquainted with and invited Foxworthy and his wife Gregg to his restaurant.
“They looked at the menu and said, ‘What the heck is a grit chip?’ I told them it was a new creation of the restaurant, and Jeff said, ‘It’s just one more thing to like about the South.’ That has become our slogan,” McDonough said.
When talk began to drift about taking the Grit Chip to market, Foxworthy told McDonough he should get someone to endorse it. The light clicked on for everybody.
“Gregg looked over at Jeff and said, ‘You are the perfect person to endorse it,’” he said.
Foxworthy later said he has been approached with a lot of business ideas, especially after he appeared as a panelist on the reality TV show “Shark Tank” about entrepreneurs who hawk their ideas.
“People would approach me with every kind of idea you can imagine,” Foxworthy said. “Some were good, but oddly enough, here was this guy from Pittsburgh telling me all about a Southern grit chip. And to me, that sounded like one of the best ideas I had ever had thrown at me.”
Jerome Stewart, McDonough’s partner in the Roswell Food Group, started looking for a manufacturer and a distributor. A small company in California was found that could produce the
chips at the quality they wanted. Then the Grit Chip was introduced June 16 to help Six Flags over Georgia celebrate its 45th birthday and to announce the launch of his highly anticipated Jeff Foxworthy’s Original Grit Chips.
The final link is getting to market through a deal struck with Kroger. In mid-September, the Grit Chip will be in 3,574 stores nationwide. To launch the Grit Chip, it will be offered at the Atlanta Motor Speedway Labor Day Race.
“We hoped Kroger would start us off in the Southern region. We didn’t dare hope they would put it in all their stores,” McDonough said.
Sysco Foods has inquired about a vending machine size and a 20-ounce bag for restaurants, he said.
The Grit Chip will come in four flavors: original Salt and Butter, Cheddar, Cheddar and Jalapeno and Sweet Heat. Sweet Heat is the spiciest with the sweetness from something like pickle relish and the heat from the habanero pepper.
McDonough says they plan to follow up with three Southern dips in 2013. In keeping with the Southern tradition, the dips will be black-eyed pea hummus, smoky greens and bacon dip and chow-chow, which is a Southern salsa. (All three can be sampled at Roswell Tap.)
Roswell Food Group will follow the introduction of the dips with a line of brats and sausages in 2014.