Zapp’s potato chip founder dies at 67

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 2, 2010

GRAMERCY, La. (AP) — Ron Zappe, the founder of Zapp’s Potato Chips, died Tuesday in Houston, where he was undergoing treatment for throat cancer, company officials said. He was 67.

‘‘We’re all kind of shocked and stunned,’’ said Rod Olson, the company’s general manager. ‘‘We don’t know exactly what happened, but it was probably a heart attack. He will be missed.’’

Olson said Zappe’s wife, Anne, found him on the floor of their apartment at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center after she returned from an errand.

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‘‘The treatments had been weighing on him,’’ Olson said. ‘‘He’d been feeling very poorly. The treatments made it difficult to swallow and difficult to speak.’’

In 1985, Zappe opened the potato chip company after his four petroleum services companies went bankrupt in the 1980s’ oil bust. The Gramercy-based company celebrates its 25th anniversary on July 1. The kettle-style chips — with flavors like Cajun Crawtator, Mesquite BBQ, Cajun Dill, Hotter n Hot Jalapeno, and Creole Tomato spiked with Tabasco and Voodoo, a mystery flavor — are sold along the Gulf coast. In addition, their natural potato brand is popular along the East and West coasts.

‘‘We’re a niche product, not a huge player in the chip business, but we’ve grown to the point that we’re planning to build another plant in Pennsylvania so we can supply the Northeast,’’ Olson said.

‘‘This is a family-owned business and he (Zappe) always said he wanted this company to be making great chips in Gramercy for 50 years after he passed away. So that’s what we intend to do.’’