Stephen Francis Bernard, co-founder of the Cape Cod Potato Chips company, died March 7 of pancreatic cancer. He was 61.
The New Hampshire native earned an economics degree from the University of Notre Dame, then spent the next few years traveling around the country and doing odd jobs. Determined and innovative, he fought forest fires, fished for tuna, ran an auto parts business, sailed to the Turks & Caicos Islands and opened a natural foods store.
In 1980, Bernard and his wife, Lynn, began serving kettle-cooked potato chips at their shop in Hyannis, Mass. Made from potatoes grown on Maine farms and fried in small kettles, the thick chips cooked up crisper and bulkier than ordinary chips. Free samples found favor with locals and tourists alike, but the Bernards struggled to make ends meet until a motorist drove into their front window — and almost hit their daughter. News coverage of the accident bought customers to the door, and soon people from all over New England were visiting the shop to eat and buy their snacks.
Knowing they had a winner on their hands, the Bernards founded Cape Cod Potato Chips. Over time, their factory became a top tourist attraction in the region, one that welcomed 250,000 visitors annually. The company also expanded its product line to include other kinds of chips including: sea salt & vinegar, sea salt & cracked pepper, buttermilk ranch, mesquite barbecue, jalapeno & aged cheddar, blue corn, white corn, cheddar jack & sour cream, veggie tortilla and reduced fat.
Anheuser-Busch bought Cape Cod Potato Chips in 1985, and operated it as a division of its Eagle Snacks unit. By the following year, up to 80,000 bags were sold each day in the U.S. and Canada, with annual sales of $16 million. But when Anheuser-Busch dissolved its snack food division, the Bernards bought it back. They owned the company for three years before selling it to Lance Inc. in 1999.
In the final years of his life, Bernard enjoyed gardening, fly fishing, watching Notre Dame football and playing mini golf with his grandsons. He also co-founded Late July Organic snacks, with his daughter Nicole Dawes in 2001. Friends and family remembered him as a loyal, passionate, adventurous and principled man.