Objects of the Month

June 2015: Artwork film for Route 11's Tabard Farm Yukon Gold Potato Chips bag, 2014

Artwork film for Route 11's Tabard Farm Yukon Gold Potato Chips bag, 2014
  • Object No.: 2014.32.1
  • Donor: Sarah Cohen
  • Description:

    Artwork film for Tabard Farm Yukon Gold Potato Chips bag featuring the Tabard Inn as a farmhouse, 2014.

Connoisseurs of potato chips are likely familiar with Route 11 potato chips. Route 11 was founded in 1992, and is based in Mount Jackson, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley. Yet the company has its roots in downtown D.C., and the Tabard Inn — the venerable Dupont Circle brunch spot that was among the area’s first farm-to-table restaurants.

In the late 1970s, Edward and Fritzi Cohen, the inn’s owners, started Tabard Farm Potato Chips as a side business. They sold tubs of organic chips to boutique and high-end shops like Williams-Sonoma. In the early 1980s, Tabard Farm began offering seasonal Yukon Gold potato chips. Their expertise went international in 1989 when Tabard Farm began supplying machinery and training to agricultural cooperatives in the Soviet Union.

In 1992, the Cohen’s daughter Sarah spun off the chip-making business and founded Route 11 Potato Chips. Route 11 offers a glimpse (and a taste) of this origin story with their Tabard Farm Yukon Gold Potato Chips. The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington (JHSGW) interviewed Sarah Cohen, Route 11’s proprietor, about her family history and what makes Yukon Gold potatoes so special.

The Tabard Inn, 1739 N Street, NW, south of Dupont Circle 

Wikimedia Commons

JHSGW: Tabard Farm Yukon Gold chips have their origins with the Tabard Inn, before the founding of Route 11. What’s the story?

Cohen: The prequel to Route 11 starts at the Tabard Inn. Edward and with his wife Fritzi [Cohen], my parents, bought the Tabard Inn in 1975. The purchased the hotel in part to save it from being demolished to make way for a high-rise office building. The restaurant opened a few years later, and Nora Poullion was the first Tabard Chef. She and my father shared the same interest in where food comes from, and how it’s grown. My dad was also an avid gardener, who spent much of his free time in the dirt.

Soon after the Tabard Inn’s kitchen started serving meals, my dad found a piece of property near Front Royal, Virginia, and also found a genius, bio-dynamic farmer named Susan [Peterson] to run the farm, which grew food for the Inn. This was the beginning of Tabard Farm. Tabard Farm grew vegetables for the Tabard Inn and also delivered to about 20 restaurants in D.C.

One day, a neighboring organic farmer told my dad a story about how he’d planted all these potatoes for two brothers, and that the brothers just got arrested for dealing cocaine and put in prison. He had just planted all these potatoes and didn’t know what he was going to do. My dad got a big smile and a sparkle in his eye, and knew that he wanted to do. MAKE POTATO CHIPS!

My dad was also potato-obsessed in general, and [a few years later] when the Yukon Gold potato began to appear in seed catalogs, he thought it would be great to try those as chips. And, they were INCREDIBLE!!

The Tabard Inn depicted as a farmhouse on a bag of Tabard Farm Yukon Gold potato chips.

JHSGW: The image on the bag presents the iconic Inn near Dupont Circle as a farm house. Where did the idea for that image come from, and who created it?

Cohen: The image on the bag of the Tabard in a potato field, was the original artwork for the Yukon Gold bag done [for Tabard Farm Potato Chips] in the early 1980s. It was done by the sister of a sous chef in the Tabard Kitchen.

JHSGW: Many Washington-area Jews have a mom-and-pop grocery or some other shop as part of their family history. I often hear wonderful stories about the fun and warmth of growing up living over, and in many ways, in the store. What was it like growing up with/in the Tabard Inn?

Cohen: My two brothers and I worked at the Tabard as we grew up... me from the age of 12, and then my brothers into adulthood, and up until very recently. My parents never really related to the idea of a mom-and-pop business. They were very political and cerebral, and from the get-go hired great people, who helped grow the Tabard into the icon that it is today.

My parents definitely set the tone for the place. It was never your typical corporate, cookie-cutter hotel. Neither of them ever worked the front lines of the business. But, the Tabard is what it is because of their original vision [to offer organic, farm-to-table food] and the great staff that it attracted over the years. It was an awesome and fun business to grow up in.

JHSGW: These chips are more than just a nod to Route 11’s roots in your parents’ business. How do you characterize your contribution to your family’s culinary and entrepreneurial history? Are there certain values or a spirit that flows through it all?

Sarah Cohen and fellow chipmakers.

Courtesy Sarah Cohen and Route 11.

Cohen: Route 11 very much reflects the values and spirit of my family’s relationship with food and hospitality. My dad loved to grow vegetables, and my mom is a great cook. Tabard has an authenticity that is hard to find these days. I would say the same for Route 11.

There are so many smoke and mirrors in the world of food, and we’re producing this product ourselves, working closely with several growers, forging relationships with our fans, and inviting people to come see how the chips are made. It’s the real deal. The true inspiration for Route 11 was to try and make a really, really good potato chip without cutting the corners on ingredients or methods that happen so often with most snack foods.

Chips coming out of the cooker at Route 11’s factory in the Shenandoah Valley.

Courtesy Sarah Cohen and Route 11

JHSGW: So, what makes Yukon Gold potatoes so special?

Cohen: The Yukon Golds are a yellow flesh potato with a buttery flavor built in. Who doesn’t love butter? When we’re cooking them, our factory smells like buttered popcorn.

JHSGW: I’m not asking you to give up any secrets, but is there a trick to making the perfect Yukon Gold chip?

Cohen: The Yukon Golds are seasonal, August-October. They can’t be stored year round and still make a GREAT potato chip. They’re best made from fresh-dug Yukons.

JHSGW: What burning question have I missed?

Cohen: Tabard Farm Yukon Gold Potato Chips were the first Yukon Gold Potato Chip ever marketed. That’s pretty cool. I don’t think many people know that.