Home Fairfield Bridgeport’s Rose Sisters Chips takes unlikely family recipe into national small business...

Bridgeport’s Rose Sisters Chips takes unlikely family recipe into national small business competition

On July 29, Jonathan C. Marcus will discover if his Bridgeport-based business Rose Sisters Chips will win first prize in the third annual UPS Store Small Biz Challenge.

Marcus’s business was among more than 2,000 that entered this year’s competition, and he emerged among the top five finalists vying for the first prizes of $25,000 and an editorial feature in Inc. Magazine.

The competition is the latest stop in a remarkable odyssey for the company, which offers gourmet seasoned tortilla chips based on a family recipe with an unlikely history.

“My grandmother was from Poland,” said Marcus. “She came to the U.S. and had my mom and my aunt, who are the Rose Sisters. My grandmother used to make the seasoning and bake it on Polish bread.

“When my mom and my aunt were able to bake, they were too lazy to make bread and had no interest in trying to replicate that, but they loved the taste. They tested a number of different applications for the seasoning and ended up on a flour tortilla. Sure enough, that’s what we grew up with.”

Rose Sisters Chips launched in 2019 with Marcus at the helm. The company’s namesakes have been active participants in the endeavor: his mother Ann Marcus, age 84, focuses on business operations and his aunt Paula Heimowitz, 79, is tasked with developing new products.

Marcus acknowledged the UPS Store Small Biz Challenge came about because his mother brought the contest to his attention.

Initially, Rose Sisters Chips outsourced its production to a small New Jersey company, but Marcus experienced such a strong flurry of consumer demand that “we outgrew them awfully fast, probably within eight months.” The company set up its own production facility in Bridgeport and culled a local workforce to make the products just as the Covid-19 pandemic took root.

“We invested all of this money into the facility and the world came to a screeching halt,” Marcus recalled. “Our distributors stopped distributing food products like ours and just went with the necessary items, such as health care products and water. For a number of months, we really weren’t sure what was going to happen.”

But rather than wait for normalcy to return, Marcus opted to create his own new normal by gathering attendee mailing lists from the food industry trade conferences that were canceled due to the pandemic.

“We ended up doing a big mail blitz to all the attendees of all the food shows that we could get a hold of,” he said. “And we told them, ‘We know we’re not going to meet you in person, and that is a bummer, but we really want you to try our chips. If you’re interested, let us know and we’ll ship out of that.’”

The result of that proactive outreach resulted in Marcus shipping out approximately 500 bags and ending up with “a number of new distributors, some new sales representatives, as well as some new retail market points, so it was wildly successful for us.”

Marcus said the company has doubled in size from the past year.

“We’ve grown from really nothing two-and-a-half years ago to being distributed to more than 1,400 retail points across the U.S. and up in Toronto,” he said. “And by the end of this year, we’re thinking that number will double. It’s been awesome – a great ride.”

Looking forward, Marcus previewed an expanded product line-up with new flavors and product sizes, and acknowledged a cash prize in the upcoming competition would help the company grow faster.

“We really need to invest in automation,” he said. “Our process today is very manually-oriented, which is kind of inefficient. We’re able to meet demand and we still have some scaling capability, but automation can get us to that next level. And we have some large retailers interested in us, but we could never fulfill their orders in the process that we have today.”

Marcus added that he intended to grow his business within Bridgeport.

“We hire locally, helping a bunch of people, and we buy from vendors here in Bridgeport, so we’re really trying to support the community as best we can,” he said.

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Phil Hall's writing for Westfair Communications has earned multiple awards from the Connecticut Press Club and the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists. He is a former United Nations-based reporter for Fairchild Broadcast News and the author of 11 books (including the new release "100 Years of Wall Street Crooks," published by Bicep Books). He is also the host of the SoundCloud podcast "The Online Movie Show," host of the WAPJ-FM talk show "Nutmeg Chatter" and a writer with credits in The New York Times, New York Daily News, Hartford Courant, Wired, The Hill's Congress Blog, Profit Confidential, The MReport and StockNews.com. Outside of journalism, he is also a horror movie actor - usually playing the creepy villain who gets badly killed at the end of each film.


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