A catastrophic fire didn’t extinguish hope as Mr. Chips Inc. plans to rebuild

Rising from the ashes is never easy, but that is just what Mr. Chips Inc., a third-generation business, intends to do.

After fire ravaged the main production facility at the Mr. Chips Inc. pickle factory on Oct. 3, many wondered how this major Bay County employer would move forward. Devastation was immediately evident, both in terms of the loss to the buildings and systems and to the roughly 150 Pinconning-area individuals that the company employed at the time of the fire.

Mr. Chips Inc., a subsidiary of Bay View Foods, was founded in 2000 by Joseph Janicke, current president of Bay View Foods and Mr. Chips Inc. In addition to its Bay County plant, it has operations in Georgia. Mr. Chips is known globally for production and packaging of pickle, relish, and pepper products; in fact, 5% of the nation’s production of such products comes right out of the Pinconning plant, according to the company’s website.

While inspectors were unable to determine the exact cause of the fire, they were able to establish that the fire started in an older building within the plant, located at 2606 N. Huron Road in Pinconning.

Unfortunately, with so much destruction, it will take time to restore the facility. The company is beginning to make long-term plans, but nothing is firm. Jay Janicke, Vice President of Sales for Mr. Chips Inc., says while the cucumber grading and fermentation portions of the facility were not impacted, a complete re-build of the production plant will be needed.

“The fire took out 100% of our Michigan production, as well as our server and data systems,” Janicke says. “Our main focus over the last couple months has been restoring our systems, putting supply plans in place to cover customer demand, evaluating damage, as well as building a temporary production facility to support customer demand.”

Maintaining current customers and orders will be an essential part of the company’s recovery.

Trevor Keyes, President and CEO of Bay Future Inc., an organization dedicated to facilitating economic development in the Bay County region, says after working closely with Mr. Chips for the past decade, his organization is on board to assist once again. In 2011, Bay Future worked with Fraser Township, Bay View Foods, and Mr. Chips to help secure a $1.5 million investment to expand the facility and create 40 new jobs.

“When we received news of the fire that Saturday night, we began reaching out and working to help secure the nearly 200 jobs that Bay View Foods and Mr. Chips account for in the community,” Keyes says.

Prior to an October fire, 5% of the nation’s pickles, peppers, and relish products came from Mr. Chips in Pinconning.In the months after the fire, Mr. Chips has been able to maintain 65 employees at its Michigan facility.

“We do not have any production happening in Michigan,” Janicke says. “We are shipping raw materials from Michigan to Georgia and funneling most of our production [there].”

Bringing production back to Michigan is one key to moving forward.

“We are currently working on building a temporary plant and anticipate this to be online during the first half of the first quarter,” Janicke estimates.

Thinking long term, the company has plans to fully rebuild and is exploring its options. Janicke says he is aware of the company’s role in the community of Pinconning and beyond. He says the firm hopes to mitigate impacts on employees while strengthening and expanding the business.

“Since 2000 Mr. Chips has had continued growth and has become one of the largest cucumber/pepper manufacturers in our industry. We feel it is very important to rebuild in order to remain a leader in our industry and continue to grow our company,” says Janicke.

The economic importance of Mr. Chips Inc. in the community is paramount, and Keyes says Bay Future has attempted to make the rebuilding process as easy as possible.

We coordinated triage meetings with the company, Fraser Township, Great Lakes Bay MI Works!, service providers, contractors, and the Pinconning Linwood Chamber of Commerce. Fraser Township held special meetings to allow the company to begin reconstruction as quickly as possible,” Keyes says.

“MI Works! coordinated workforce programs to assist the company in securing and accessing their workforce needs. And we worked with the company, contractors, and other service providers to identify financing programs to help the company in those efforts.”

Janicke says 2020 was already difficult due to the changes necessitated to control the spread of COVID-19. For Mr. Chips, the fire and its effects have been far more challenging than those brought on by the pandemic, he says.

Luckily, all hands are on deck to ensure recovery.

“Our Georgia and Michigan teams have really stepped up and adapted to immediate changes this past year which makes us very optimistic, once we rebuild, about what Mr. Chips will accomplish knowing these challenges have and will make us stronger,” Janicke says.

Janicke emphasizes how essential the support from the surrounding community has been throughout this ordeal.

“This experience has been very challenging for everyone on the Mr. Chips team, but the support we have all received from employees, customers, contractors, suppliers, and community has been overwhelming. It has helped us keep our focus and will help us as we rebuild to be stronger.”