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When motorists drive along U.S. Highway 2 in Grand Forks, they may see flowing clouds of steam rising from a factory. The steamy clouds carry an aroma of cooked potatoes. What magic is happening behind those factory walls?

Through the steam, drivers see the walls of a French-fry plant, where workers churn out various “cuts of french fries, including shoestrings, thincuts, and regulars.” The factory also produces “tater gems and hashbrowns.”

This Grand Forks factory is known today as the J.R. Simplot plant. It history began way back in 1960 with the incorporation of the Frozen Potato Products Company, under the leadership of John A. Cronquist, a farmer and entrepreneur from Gilby, N.D., and Red River Valley Potato Growers Association. The factory started cooking and freezing french-fries in 1962.

The best locally-grown white-skinned Kennebec potatoes got washed, sorted, pre-heated, skinned, and sliced into long, slender shapes. These spuds got cooked, and went through a sugar wash and sealer solution that would help the fries absorb less grease in the fryer.

The slices were quickly deep-fried, either partially or completely, then flash-frozen in 40-below-zero temperatures; and then packed for shipping.

The French-fries for restaurants were partially-deep-fried; while grocery-store fries for home use were fully cooked.

The little potato scraps leftover from the French-fry cutting were not wasted. These “slivers and nubbins” got “squeezed and crushed and treated” to become “potato puffs or mashed potatoes.”

And so it was that frozen French fries poured forth from Grand Forks. But financial difficulties soon forced a change in ownership, the operation becoming Jiffy-Fry, Incorporated, of Crookston, Minnesota. And on this date in 1965 a Saveway Super Fair grocery-store advertisement for “Jiffy Fresh Frozen French Fries” appeared in the Bismarck Tribune.

Jiffy-Fry, Inc., did well for some years, and it got bought out by Foremost-McKesson, Inc. Then came J.R. Simplot, a giant amongst potato corporations, which swallowed up the operation in 1972.

At their best, the frozen fries from Grand Forks have always become crispy delights. But if cooked improperly ... well, try a little squirt of ketchup.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSUM History Department

Sources:
Saveway Super Fair advertisement, Bismarck Tribune, December 28, 1965, p. 17.

William Johnson, “N.D. Processing Plant to Give ‘Glamor Treatment’ to Potatoes,” Minneapolis Tribune, March 25, 1962, p. 53.

“Frozen French Fried Potato Processing Plant Planned in North Dakota,” Steele County Press [Finley, ND], October 6, 1960, p. 1.

“Plant Starts Production of Frozen French Fries,” Bismarck Tribune, September 24, 1962, p. 16.

“Potato Plant’s Stockholders to Eye Reopening,” Bismarck Tribune, November 14, 1963, p. 15.

“French Fries Plant in Open Around Clock,” Bismarck Tribune, November 3, 1965, p. 25.

“Fry Plant Strike Settled,” Fergus Falls [MN] Daily Journal, April 3, 1973, p. 10.

“Simplot’s U.S. Operations: Grand Forks, ND, Potato Processing Plant,” www.simplot.com/about/us_operations, accessed on November 23, 2021.

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