FREEPORT — Turning the April calendar to May signaled a milestone for Butch Mordick.
May 1 meant the coming year would be one of celebration for Mordick and his passion for making the perfect potato chip at his company Mrs. Mike's.
Mrs. Mike's has been a staple in the Freeport community for nearly 100 years, 50 of them with Mordick in charge.
Mordick got into the chip business after he lost his job at Micro Switch in the 1970s during an economic downturn. He and a buddy spoke of buying a bar, and then he learned Mrs. Mike's was up for sale.
The business already had a long history of success in Freeport, and Mordick longed to be a part of it.
Today, Mordick's sons Matt and Dan oversee most of the day-to-day operations. Mordick turns 80 this year.
“I still come into the office every day," Mordick said. "This business has been my life for 50 years. ... We fought changes and made it through difficult times, and it is the local community and area that continues to support us.”
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Mordick admits making potato chips and popcorn has grown beyond the vision he had 50 years ago. The company sells well beyond the Freeport area these days thanks to online sales.
While potato chips are the company's biggest seller, Mrs. Mike’s also sells popcorn and pretzels, which fits well with Freeport's “Pretzel City” nickname.
Mordick said the company uses between two and three 1,200-pound crates of potatoes every day.
It weathered a 2017 mandate from the federal government to remove trans fats from the oils used in potato chips. The law sent him and his sons scrambling to recreate Mrs. Mike's popular chip flavor with a new oil recipe within the new guidelines. Mordick feared the worst.
“I worried about the future of the business,” Mordick said. “When the change first happened, business dropped by 40%. The new blend brought us back, and we are busier than ever.”
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While many businesses suffered during last year's pandemic, sales at Mrs. Mike’s soared, Mordick said. People’s buying habits changed, he said, and he started getting calls that bags of chips were flying off the shelves.
Born and raised in Freeport, Mordick said he feels proud when he sits at a local restaurant and sees Mrs. Mike’s chips being served.
“I am part of Freeport. My chips have been part of Freeport for almost 100 years, and for half of that, I have been part of something and it makes me feel good,” he said. “I still like to go back and watch the chips being made. I used to do it all by myself, and now I watch my sons, but I like to know it is done right.”
Troy Barr, one of the owners of Pub 219, said when he and his partners opened the bar/restaurant in 2017, they knew they wanted to serve local beer, cheese and Mrs. Mike’s potato chips.
“When we opened the business, it became all about local," Barr said. "I remember going to Mrs. Mike’s as a kid. I love their chips. Mrs. Mike’s is all about Freeport.”
Mordick said he plans to spend the next year celebrating 50 years in business and turning 80. He is proud of making the right decision back in 1971.
“It comes down to a vision, a good potato, good ingredients and loyal customers,” Mordick said. “I feel like I want to stick around. When you work many years to be successful, you don’t want to watch it fail. My sons are doing a good job, but I am still watching.”
Mordick and his sons are still working on plans to officially celebrate their family's 50 years with Mrs. Mike later this year.
Jane Lethlean is a freelance correspondent.