Ron Zappe's Cajun Potato Chips Are Really Hot in Louisiana, and He'd Like to Run Them Bayou Too

updated 01/19/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/19/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

Down Louisiana way the folks like food that makes an impression; you know, a dash of Tabasco sauce here, a handful of red peppers there—and that's just in their morning coffee. So when it came time to make a potato chip that Louisianans could clasp to their smoldering hearts, Ronald Zappe knew his chip had to be something explosive, mouth-burning and eye-watering. Something in fact like his Cajun Craw-Tators, which have become the hottest form of face-filling in Louisiana and adjacent territories.

Before Craw-Tators, Zappe tried a number of ways to make a living, most recently selling oil-field equipment. After discovering he had an attraction to the food and people of Louisiana, he decided to switch, as he puts it, "from crude oil to peanut oil." Zappe, 43, asked a couple of hotshot Houston chipsters to teach him the business, and he opened his chippery in Gramercy, La. 18 months ago. Today Zappe employs 48 people, a boon in economically depressed Gramercy, and chic chippers around the country are going dippy over his products. (A word to the Wise: Zapp's Chips aren't for sale everywhere, so if you have a burning need for them, you have to call 1-800-HOT-CHIP, and they'll mail them to you.)

Zappe makes six different kinds of potato chips, but it's his Cajun Craw-Tators—made from the traditional "secret recipe"—that are something special. Even Paul Prudhomme, the fabled father of Cajun cuisine, keeps a bag in his pick-up truck.

Every week Zappe commutes to Gramercy from Houston, where his wife, Anne, and two children by his first marriage live. Zappe says that big-money guys are urging him to expand his business, but he's not interested. Even though Zappe claims he has made only enough money to "buy a new hubcap for my '83 Oldsmobile," he goes on to say, "I've never had so much fun in my life." That certainly doesn't sound like someone about to cash in his chips.

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