The Rapidian

Salty, crunchy, delicious: local tortilla chips put to the test

Supporting local business just got crunchy. With fresh salsa season on the brink, six Grand Rapidians considered which locally produced tortilla chip will compliment your tasty dip best.
From L to R: Ashley Wilis, Sara Hutchinson, Alyssa Shiedel, Ann Tabor, Ashley Joldersma

From L to R: Ashley Wilis, Sara Hutchinson, Alyssa Shiedel, Ann Tabor, Ashley Joldersma /Jennifer Voss

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Established in 1975, El Matador Enterprise Inc is a long-standing tortilla chip manufacturer here in Grand Rapids.

New competition has arrived for the once lone local corn chip factory. Charley's Pub & Grill, established in 2009 as an upscale yet casual restaurant, began retailing their original tortilla chips in Spartan stores on Superbowl weekend of 2012.

As a self-proclaimed tortilla chip connoisseur who is also interested in supporting local business, I decided to host a taste test between the two chips. I gathered five friends who had never heard of Charley's Chips, and didn't know that both companies were based here in Grand Rapids.

They broke down their assessment of both chips in the following categories; packaging, taste and texture. After they discussed those aspects, I told them more about the companies to see if it would affect their opinions. 

The Packaging:

While obviously the packaging makes no difference on the taste of a product, package design definitely plays into our decision-making as consumers. 

"These [El Matador] are the chips my family always buys, so I'm kind of partial to them," says Ann Tabor, "but I also probably wouldn't have bought those ones [referring to Charley's Chips] because I've never heard of them and didn't know what they tasted like."

"Based on the packaging alone, if I was at the store and saw these two next to each other, I would buy the El Matador chips, because they are more appealing to the eye," says Alyssa Schiedel.

"Yeah, they look more professional," Ashley Joldersma agrees. 

Ashley Willis on the other hand prefers the more simple packaging of Charley's Chips. 

"I like the clear bag. I like being able to see the chips and I know they aren't trying to hide what they look like."   

Sara Hutchinson, a graphic design student, says that the both packages reflects the image of the businesses well. 

"The colors and fonts on the El Matador chips definitely reflect they are Mexican tortilla chips, while the clear packaging, stickers, and simplicity of Charley's Chips fits with what's typical of local restaurants." 

"That's true," agrees Schiedel, "they look like fresh restaurant chips. It looks like they just made them, packaged them up, and now we're eating them." 

The Taste:

"Based on taste alone, I would go with Charley's Famous Fresh Tortilla Chips, because they are a lot more flavorful," says Joldersma. 

Ann Tabor compared the taste to Doritos.

"But fresh, sweeter, and not so cheesy," she says.  

"I feel like you could set Charley's chips out at a football game and you don't even need a side to dip them in. But these [referring to El Matador] would need some salsa or guacamole," says Ashley Willis. "You need a chip that can support guacamole, and I love guacamole," she says.

"The El Matador chips are a good taco chip that you can eat with other things," Tabor agrees.  

The Texture:

The group agreed that the textures were quite different. El Matador chips were more hearty, everyone agreed. 

"Yeah, they have a lot more crunch, while Charley's have more of a flaky texture," says Willis. 

Further Information:

I told them to consider where the chips are generally located in the stores. Charley's Chips can typically be found in the deli section of Spartan stores, right by fresh made dips and cheeses. They also often have samples offered next to the display. 

"That is great marketing," says Willis. "Especially because it sells their chips as being fresh and tasting great plain."

Owner, Jim Raredon, asserts that the majority of Charley's Chips are actually sold the day they are made

"Wow, knowing that, I would definitely buy them," says Hutchinson.

The Verdict:

While all contestents say they enjoyed both brands of chips in different ways, at the end of the afternoon, one bowl of chips was empty, while the other remained half full.

Charley's Chips were gone, and clearly the favored chip for these Grand Rapidians. Which local chip is yours? 

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