Mister Bee continues to produce chips

VIENNA – Despite setbacks, West Virginia’s lone potato chip company continues to churn out chips and expand its market share.

Randall Holden, president of the West Virginia Potato Chip Co. that manufactures Mister Bee, said Tuesday the company laid off six employees from its 36-person staff. Holden said sales and driver representatives in Charleston, Fairmont and Parkersburg were laid off along with two office workers and a Charleston supervisor.

After the holidays the winter months are slow periods for the business, Holden said.

“It is managing the business to where current sales are running,” he said.

The layoffs are temporary and sales routes will not be affected, Holden said.

“We have supervisors who will run the sales routes, so it will not affect the routes,” he said.

They are relying on information from longtime employees regarding sales trends, Holden, whose partners have run the business for less than a year, said. When the weather warms up, the company expects sales to rise, he said.

Sales were good through the holiday season, dropped after New Year’s, but spiked with the Super Bowl, Holden said. He said sales will flatten and likely remains so for the next four to six weeks.

Holden wants to focus on retaining the company’s remaining 30 jobs, build sales and maintain cash flow.

Mister Bee, established in 1951, shut down in 2011 and filed for bankruptcy protection. The company was purchased by Rick Barton and Holden, who are among the founders of Wincore, a Parkersburg-based window and door company. The two organized an LLC under the West Virginia Potato Chip Co. to continue production of Mister Bee products.

Last year, the company was approved for a pair of loans totaling nearly $385,000 from the West Virginia Economic Development Authority. The first, for more than $249,000, was to help finance the real estate of the property. The second, for $135,000, was to assist financing of equipment.

The loans received final approval Aug. 16, but they have not gone through, state officials said.

The state loans have not closed, but are near, Holden said. He cited issues surrounding the company’s name change and use of the Mister Bee name.

“It’s really close,” he said of the loans.

The company is focusing its efforts on promoting the state, Holden said.

“Hopefully, being the state’s potato chip of choice,” he said. “We are making end roads.”

The company is running commercials in Charleston, Beckley, Morgantown and Wheeling.

Holden said the chip’s largest customer base is Parkersburg, representing at least 75 percent of sales.