Traverse City News and Events

Gibby's: Behind the Fryer

July 4, 2011

The inside of the concession trailer is hot – stifling hot – as metal baskets of freshly-peeled and sliced potatoes sizzle to crisp deliciousness, awaiting their place in a French fry boat or bucket. Soon they’ll meet up with a side of piping-hot chili and cheese, or get a dousing of vinegar and ketchup. Whatever their accomplice, their fate is the same: Gibby’s Fries will be devoured.

If you consider yourself among the many Gibby’s devotees, you know all about this annual tradition of greasy goodness. If you’re not … well, that’s hard to imagine, given the great lengths – literally – that people go to so they can nosh on what’s become a National Cherry Festival mainstay for more than four decades.

“One year I had a line nonstop from eleven in the morning, and it didn’t stop until eleven at night,” says Bruce Hansen, who has owned and operated Gibby’s Fries with his wife, Chris, for 21 years. He says lines of 100+ people at both Gibby’s trailers is the norm at peak Festival times. “It’s crazy … Every year it gets better.”

The Ticker headed up to the Cherry Fest opening day to talk taters with the Hansens, who, even before owning Gibby’s, supplied the business with potatoes through their former company, Hansen’s Produce. Here’s the skinny on their salted slices of heaven:

· “Grandma Gibbs” started Gibby’s Fries in the mid-1940s in Hastings, Michigan. Chris Hansen remembers coming to the Cherry Festival with her parents for the fries during her childhood. Bruce and Chris would later buy the trailer and eventually add a second concession wagon. They’ve grown the business to include trailers for soft-serve ice cream and crushed-ice lemonade, which Chris oversees, and elephant ears, which their son, Josh Hansen, operates.

· The fries once were served in sno-cone cups. The boat container came later, and most recently a bucket of fries – costing $7.50, with $6 refills – was added to the menu.

· To reach their golden crispness, sliced potatoes go through a seven- or eight-fryer process. All told, it takes six minutes or less to be golden-fried. “They start out cooking really fast, so they don’t get soggy, and then they go in lower temperatures as they go down the line. The last fryer is the hottest because it browns them and crisps them,” Chris Hansen says. Adds Bruce: “We peel our potatoes fresh and we only use good quality vegetable shortening. And we do not cook nothing else in our fryers but potatoes. You get the good flavor.”

· Busiest times? During parades, fireworks, the lunch hour. Even boaters come ashore for the crunchy, salty treat. “I really do think a lot of it is tradition,” Chris says. “To me, they are the best.”

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