WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — The state took the unusual action Wednesday of telling anyone who has any bags of Charley’s Chips to not eat them and calling on stores to take them off shelves.
The popular premium brand was usually found in the gourmet section at stores, but according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the conditions in which the chips were made is far from high class.
MDARD said Charley’s Fresh Tortilla Chips, Charley’s Gourmet Salsa and Charley’s House Blend Seasonings were made in “insanitary conditions” in an unlicensed and uninspected facility. It seized all food and ingredients from the company.
For the last three weeks, Charley’s Chips Company has been run out of what used to be a Get ‘Em and Go and Burger George on S. Division Avenue south of 36th Street in Kentwood.
“I will not sell it if it does not meet a certain standard that I have,” founder Jim Raredon told 24 Hour News 8 Wednesday during a tour of the facility. “If the money’s lost, the money’s lost.”
Raredon says the chips were named for his dog or his brother, but according to a 2013 lawsuit, the name comes from Charley’s Pub & Grill in Wyoming, where Raredon developed the recipe.
Thanks to the chips being picked up by Spartan stores in 2013, Raredon said he was making as many as 25,000 bags per month to send to stores statewide.
MDARD is still working to get a full list of all stores that carried the chips, but said they were stocked at the following West Michigan shops:
- Bridge Street Market in Grand Rapids
- Byron Center Meats in Byron Center
- Changing Thymes on Chicago Drive in Grandville
- D & W Fresh Market in Knapp’s Corner, Grand Rapids Township
- Green Acres Farm Market on Lake Michigan Drive in West Olive
- Horrocks Market in Kentwood
- Paula’s Market in Tallmadge Township
- Sunrise Foods (distributor), Kentwood
Last week, MDARD inspectors went to the S. Division facility after discovering that Raredon’s state license had expired more than a year ago.
“He was living in the facility, there was bedding and a recliner and we also found dog hair and filth, etc. on different sites,” MDARD spokesperson Jennifer Holton said.
>>App users: Photos from inside Charley’s Chips
Raredon admitted to 24 Hour News 8 that he should have gotten the state license but said he was waiting until the shop was ready to operate at full capacity. He thought the delay would result in, at most, a fine. He said the state’s claims are insulting.
“We were setting up, we’re still are setting up. The place is clean. It’s spotless. We’re proud of it,” he said.
MDARD painted a diffent picture.
“He had homemade equipment that was made from PVC pipe and chicken wire, so things that were not made for the manufacturing process,” Holton said.
But Raredon said his unique chips require equipment that can’t be ordered from Walmart.
“That equipment, no place makes it. I went to someplace that’s fully licensed and stuff to make it. They’re saying chicken wire and stuff ѿ it cost me $600 to make that thing,” he said.
He said his small business sometimes requires his attention 24/7, so he does sleep there.
Holton said the department is always most interested in compliance but there could be more fines if the investigation finds more problems. So far, the total is $2,400.
“From a chef of 40 years, I would tell you that there is no danger in any of the products. I’ve made them the same way. The only danger is that the state didn’t get their money,” Raredon said.
He doubted a bigger operation would have been treated the same.
“Absolutely not,” Holton rebutted. “MDARD really is all about bringing people into compliance and working with them. We want to see our food-based businesses grown and succeed.”
The state says it issued the public warning after inspectors found evidence that the chips were still being distributed to stores even after the cease and desist order was issued.
Raredon says he has been through hard times before but that he is the only one who can make chips that taste as good as Charley’s, so he believes he will be back.
The state urges anyone who spots Charley’s Chips in a store to alert the manager. It says all stores carrying the products to pull them from shelves, store them away from sales areas and contact a state food inspector.
Anyone who has eaten the products and feels ill should seek medical attention immediately. Anyone with questions is encouraged to contact the MDARD Customer Service Center at 800.292.3939 during regular business hours.