“I’m a big customer of my kale chips. And I buy them like everybody else.”
That’s Valerie Burroughs, the creator of Val’s Kale Chips, a Fayetteville-based company that sells five flavors of handmade vegetable-based treats.
Taking a course in raw foods back in 2015 was the impetus for the business. “I’ve always been interested in a healthy diet, and when I graduated, I wanted to continue the raw lifestyle,” she said. “I decided to make kale chips, because I wanted a healthy snack. Potato chips are just empty calories. People would say, ‘Hey, bring the kale chips to the party,’ or they’d drop in and they’d eat up all I’d made.”
Seeing that people enjoyed the chips and wanted more, Burroughs began selling them at the Peachtree City Farmers Market. She’d been a customer there for years, and it was close to home. The response was gratifying. “We got great feedback, and that’s when I knew I had to continue,” she said.
Burroughs started with one flavor. The base is a seasoning mix of cashews and red bell peppers, pureed with “a lot of herbs and seasonings and the right blend of salt.” The chips are low in sodium, but she found you’ve got to have some salt to bring out the rich flavor of the kale.
That original flavor led to spicy curry, inspired by her desire to marry her love of spicy food with the nutritional benefits of the spice components in curry. Next came garlic, then sweet garlic and, finally, ginger spice. More flavors are likely to be on the way.
A full commercial kitchen is part of her home in the gently rolling terrain of Fayette County. A separate entrance leads to the 600-square-foot space, where an army of home-cook-size Excalibur dehydrators (a larger unit is on the way) sits under a venting system. Annual visits from the state Department of Health make sure all is done according to code, and that allows her to sell her chips across the country.
It’s a very personalized space, with pops of turquoise in the upholstered chairs and inspirational signs on every wall. While Burroughs works, she sings, showcasing another talent (and her career as a professional singer).
Still, “making kale chips is a lot of work,” she said, while packaging a batch of chips. Burroughs has to label the bags, open the bags, fill each bag, seal each bag. And that’s just the packaging.
It all starts with putting the five Vitamix blenders to work, pureeing the seasoning mix, and then washing the organic curly kale and massaging the seasoning mix into the nooks and crannies of each leaf. She’s able to source some of her kale locally, working with Truly Living Well Urban Farm in Atlanta and Bugg Family Farm in Pine Mountain.
Each seasoned leaf is laid on a dehydrator rack and then dried. The process turns tough kale into a delicate, crisp bite, almost ethereal in texture, but packed with flavor. Burroughs estimates it takes 10 hours to go from raw kale to finished chip.
“This is like a calling to me,” she said. “There are so many steps, and it takes a lot of elbow grease and muscle work. Our customers tell me they can make their own, but sometimes they just don’t feel like doing it, and that’s when I say, ‘We’re your kale support team,’ and smile. There’s a lot of love and energy in the process. I believe that’s what keeps us going.”
Val’s Kale Chips are still sold monthly at the Peachtree City market, but she also sells at Ponce City Market, Piedmont Park, Sandy Springs and Grant Park farmers markets, and soon expects to be at the Brookhaven and Morningside farmers markets.
“I work the markets, because I love to interact with the people,” she said. “I’m in the kitchen so much that it brings balance to my life to be able to come to the markets and share what I’ve created with our customers.”
Her friend Brandon Thorpe occasionally helps with the booth and does store demos, and her daughter Adiah, whom she refers to as her “right hand,” helps manage the day-to-day operations of the business and works at markets and festivals as well.
She’s also been able to branch out from farmers markets to retail locations, such as Sevananda and the Buford Highway Farmers Market. Exposure through markets and venues like Amazon Fresh led to sales to hotels and museums, including locations in New York City and Miami, and her latest venue, the Shellis News Concourse in the T terminal of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
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