For those who grew up in the Delaware Valley, there are local cultural icons that will always be part of our lives. Some have passed into history – Strawbridges, Path Mark, and on the entertainment side, Gene London, Captain Noah and Al Alberts and his “Showcase” (ok, I didn’t say all would be missed), to name a few. Popular Channel 6 Action News weathercaster Jim O’Brien’s tragic skydiving death is something everyone of my vintage will remember.
Others have hung with us, including Tastykake (Krimpets are barely hanging on) and other staples of the local diet that has helped make Philadelphia one of the country’s most overweight cities including the much-ballyhooed Philly cheesesteak, soft pretzels (usually vended under fairly unappetizing circumstances, like from a dodgy-looking cardboard box on an exhaust-ridden city curb) and the granddaddy of them all, the hoagie.
To have a hoagie – around these parts let’s say a Capriotti’s turkey sub – without a cold soda and a bag of Herr’s chips, of course, would be akin to having Laurel without Hardy. Captain without Tenille. Peaches without Herb.
Herr’s makes one fine potato chip. And there is nothing better with a sandwich – be it egg salad, bologna or peanut butter and jelly – than a Herr’s chip. I always grimace when a boxed lunch comes with Lays, the corporate alter-ego chip of the Pennsylvania business that is Herr’s. And forget those upscale “kettle” chips – why pay $1.95 for fancy packaging when you can have the real deal for half the price?
So it was with sadness this past week the region learned of the death of Jim Herr, founder of the family company that has given us the best sour cream and onion, barbecue and rippled potato chips on the planet.
According to news reports, the 88-year-old Herr founded the company in Lancaster in 1946, growing an initial $1750 investment into $100 million in sales – the third largest potato chip maker in the country.
Although the business has gone international, there are still all-too many places where you just can’t find that little blue bag of chips when you really need it. Always fresh, always just the right amount of salt, when you’ve grown up on a product like Herr’s it is very tough to find anything that can get the job done in effectively complementing a sandwich (another local PA brand, Utz, does run a respectable second).
Truth be told, potato chips were actually a rarity in my household growing up – much more of a “special occasion” treat, all the more reason the Herr brand has a place in my heart.
Godspeed and thank you Jim Herr – for the chips and the memories.
 For one glorious summer, I had the good fortune to work at Comeros’ in Dewey Beach, which boasted the questionable tag-line “A little bit of Chester.” Owner Tony Comero, a great and kind boss, claimed his grandfather and his cronies actually invented the real Italian hoagie by combining Italian meats with salad and dressing on a fresh roll. They were playing cards at the time, I think. Tony insisted “hoagie” was the right and only moniker for the Italian with genoa salami, cappicola and peppered hams, provolone cheese and of course onions, pickles and hot and sweet peppers with olive oil and vinegar and plenty of oregano. Naive tourists would often come to the window and ask for “subs” (a Delaware derivation), “grinders” and even “wedges,” (what is this, Boston?) which Tony did not like at all.