Little Potato Company

Little Potato Company CEO and co-founder Angela Santiago speaking at a June 29 groundbreaking ceremony in DeForest. 

With a large white tent shading the crowd from the summer sun last week, Angela Santiago stepped up to a podium and gushed about DeForest and the future her company sees for itself in the village.

Santiago once dreamed of a career as a lawyer. Instead she became the face of the Little Potato Company, the company she founded with her father Jacob van der Schaaf, a Dutch immigrant, two decades ago at their home in Edmonton, Alberta.

Van der Schaaf grew up feasting upon small, flavorful potatoes back in his native land. But the vegetables were nowhere to be found after he migrated to Canada.

So the father and his 25-year-old daughter, Angela, planted a crop of creamer potatoes on a one-acre plot outside of Edmonton. That first crop was completely planted, maintained and harvested by hand.

“True story — we washed the potatoes in the bathtub,” Santiago laughed, adding that her father is a “serial entrepreneur” and she initially thought the potato growing scheme was “another goofy idea” she expected to briefly help with.

“But I fell in love with agriculture,” she continued. “I fell in love with the idea of producing a product that is genuinely good for people. That’s humbling and guilt free to produce something that you know is good for a person and their family.”

In addition to cultivating and cleaning, Santiago also took it upon herself to hawk the potatoes. She recalls packing them into bags, loading up her hatchback and heading out to farmer’s markets and restaurants.

The culinary community in Edmonton was the first to catch on to the creamers, Santiago said, favoring their uniqueness. From there the small potatoes grew in popularity with consumers.

The spike in business allowed Santiago and her father to purchase their first plant in 2000. They outfitted it with machinery to allow them to better process their smaller product and even lobbied the Canadian government to allow for smaller packaging standards, which made the potatoes more convenient and accessible to customers.

“In the last seven or eight years is when I could really start thinking that this is really catching on fire,” said the CEO Santiago. “My husband sort of took over the reigns of taking care of our kids and that’s when I started really seeing a new facility and major growth.”

Little Potato Company packages can be found on grocery store shelves throughout Canada, and also in every state in the U.S. for the past four years. It was that rising interest and business in the U.S. that ultimately led the company last year to begin exploring sites for a new American headquarters.

“We looked at a lot of states, but in the end it all starts in the ground and that was the most important layer of where we were going to go,” said Santiago. “Wisconsin is a great state to grow potatoes in, and we knew this is where we wanted to be.”

Santiago and other LPC advisors, including vice-president of operations and global development Sanford Gleddie, opted to establish new roots in DeForest’s north industrial park with a 132,730-square-foot operation that the company says will employ up to 130 people when running at full capacity in three years. Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and the village of DeForest each provided incentives to make the deal possible, including $740,000 in tax credits from WEDC.

“From just a security perspective, we are not starting from ground zero in the U.S.,” said Santiago. “We have retailers here already who have bought into the business and product and have that establishment. This is just a natural move to support the growth.”

Little Potato Company also has agreements in place with a collection of Wisconsin potato growers and are looking to expand acreage quick once the DeForest plant is ready.

The cutting-edge $20 million processing and distribution facility in DeForest was the reason for the crowd gathered under the white tent on June 29 for a groundbreaking ceremony. Ryan Companies is the firm overseeing construction of the facility along the west edge of U.S. Hwy. 51 boasting 11,730-square-feet of office space.

“We look forward to working with [Ryan] to create a world-class facility that helps meet strong and growing demand for our unique and delicious creamers,” said Gleddie.

Among those in attendance for the groundbreaking ceremony was Ben Brancel, Wisconsin secretary of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Brancel touted Wisconsin’s strong agriculture industry and said the addition of Little Potato Company to the state is a perfect fit.

“I’m excited and delighted to see a facility like this going up because it adds value,” said Brancel. “Our farmers work very, very hard in creating raw materials for food for the nation and the world. It’s the companies like [Little Potato Company] who add that value.”

Brancel also thanked Little Potato Company on behalf of Gov. Scott Walker’s administratin for settling in DeForest.

“Here is everything you could ever dream of as a location in the U.S.,” Brancel added. “So for your efforts, we hope you have great success ... and the state of Wisconsin is thrilled to have a business that comes to this state and brings the values you bring.

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