Branding Your Dreams: My Interview w/ Food Network’s “Food Court Wars” winners Chip-n-Wich

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I've always been a sandwich guy and have put chips on them since I can remember. So when I saw Chip-n-Wich on Food Networks "Food Court Wars" hosted by celebrity chef Tyler Florence, I was hooked immediately. I found myself pulling for these guys right away, hoping they would take it home……and when they did, I knew that I had to reach out.

Almost immediately, you could sense a built-in brand that everyone could identify with. Their company had "it" from the get go and recently had their grand opening on Monday, August 5th. Below is my conversation with the guys from Chip-n-Wich (Jonathan Neely and Craig Jones), along with an update on how their opening week went.

The Clark Review: First off, I want to thank you both so much for discussing everything with me today! On the show, you guys came across as extremely passionate about your brand, which was infectious. When did you first start putting together the CnW brand and what were the themes that you wanted to come across through that?

Chip-n-Wich: We started the concept “Officially” 3 years ago, however the concept of crunching was all to familiar to us. The ideas in their infancy came while brainstorming with my twin brother and designer Corey Jones, we have been “chipping our wiches” since grade school in Johnstown, PA. My brother has a really in-depth understanding of branding and has always stressed the importance of having not only a solid logo, but having a clear message. Corey was always willing to pitch in on my many ideas and eventually helped me brand my own espresso infused BBQ sauce “Craig’s Jones’en BBQ”. After college I decided to move to Detroit, MI and while working at Wolfgang Puck, I met Jon who I would often share my many creative concepts. Jon and I became great friends and one day I shared the concept of CnW that my brother and I have been playing around with. He really liked the idea because like us, he has always put chips on his sandwiches. Jon quickly became a key team member contributing ways to integrate the city of Detroit and Michigan inspired concepts. He came up with the idea of the float bar, and with Faygo being a local product with an unlimited variety of flavors we decided to make them our choice, Michigan Made. So now with Jon, Corey and I on board we brought in Jamie Coven a good friend and brilliant designer to the team. Together Jamie and Corey developed the awesome logo and key brand elements you see today.

TCR: I’ve been obsessed with sandwiches my whole life and personally love chips in them. What were the early visions created and discussed regarding where you wanted to take the CnW brand?

CnW: Early on we recognize that the concept of chips on a sandwich was nostalgic to a lot of people but NO has ever built a brand around it. We thought, how could something so familiar not be shared with the world? Jon and I knew that the everyday home variety “chip-n-wich” sandwich couldn’t stand a chance against the big business sandwich shops. With both of us having respective culinary degrees, we came up with not just a good, but better sandwich. Using only the best locally sourced ingredients, we perfected the art of sandwich stacking. Between using better ingredients, house fried potato chips, and a unique stacking system, we have created the ultimate crunch satisfying sandwich. The Chip-n-Wich brand was built to be a global entity and that’s where we will take it!

TCR: CnW is a versatile brand that can easily translate over to future stores/franchises all over. Do you have a long term vision as well and if so, what would they be?

CnW: Because we have spent so much time building our brands foundation, we know its potential for growth is high. Our vision is to connect with the people and spread the word. Our motto is that no sandwich should go “UN-CRUNCHED”. We want to take the next few years and grow our brand, build locations and establish a solid franchise plan. We just want to deliver the best possible product and make every location a destination.

Chip n Wich John and Craig

TCR: So let’s get back to where you guys are with everything right now. How has the response been in Michigan and in your area after the show aired? My girlfriend told me that we need to head to Michigan from Florida to eat at CnW, so I can only imagine the feedback that you’ve been getting locally.

CnW: Right now things are crazy, we are trying to get everything set up for our grand opening Monday Aug 5th. The response locally and via social media has been awesome, and awe -inspiring. The people of Midland have really embraced us and made us feel welcomed. We are so excited to begin service. Based on the response rate we have been receiving, the people are just ready to crunch! We would love for you and your girlfriend to come on up to MI, heck bring a bus load of friends! Honestly, we have been receiving a lot of positive feedback from all across the US.

TCR: We might actually have to do that! Finally, if you could give advice to startups or newer companies about branding and following their passion, what would you tell them?

CnW: My advice to start ups and all serious entrepreneurs is the following:

1. Establish a solid brand foundation, logo, vision, message…this is single handily the most important phase.

2. Stay positive, never lose your passion, excitement or love. If you have a great personality and a positive life outlook people will be more inclined to help your endeavor. Become your brand and believe in yourself, nothing is impossible if you believe.

3. Stay resilient and NEVER give up, this business is full of road blocks and it takes a strong individual to remain focused. If you believe in your brand, you have to push through all adversity.

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UPDATE: The guys at Chip-n-Wich shot me over this email about their first week –

” James,

The first week was AWESOME! We actually sold out of an overstocked inventory day one and nearly day two as well. Everyday last week has been super busy, the reviews are raving!! People all across the USA have been contacting us, congratulating us on the concept. We have also started to get some serious interest in franchises, so that is something we are building out and hopefully will have in place next year.

Things are looking good!”

Chip-n-Wich is located at:

The Midland Mall
6800 Eastman Avenue
Midland, Michigan 48642


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