The city of York was once the capital of the thirteen colonies. In 1777, the Continental Congress, meeting in York, decided upon and declared America’s first Thanksgiving holiday. Settled by mostly German immigrants, throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, York became an industrial power house.
Over the years, York, like many industrial cities in the East, suffered when manufacturing jobs dried up and moved overseas. But today, the city is enjoying a renaissance in its downtown. Local artisans are inspiring people to reinvest in the community. Blessed with lush farmland surrounding the town, York’s restaurants are serving farm to table cuisine and creating imaginative rifts on the city’s German heritage.
Outside York, three suburban factories continue to manufacture the best snack food on the East Coast. You can actually visit these factories and see where your potato chip comes from, as well as cheesy popcorn, crispy pretzels and salty crackers.
Three snack manufacturers are based around York: Snyder’s of Hanover (1350 York St. Hanover), Utz Quality Foods (900 High St. Hanover) and Martin’s Potato Chips (5847 Lincoln Highway, W. Thomasville). These companies are leading producers of America’s favorite pretzels, chips and popcorn, and on certain days, they offer free factory tours. Watching them turn truckloads of potatoes into crispy chips is a sight to behold.
The tours vary in how visitors learn about the manufacturing process. For example, at Snyder’s factory, you’re watching this mechanized system of shaping, baking and bagging from far above through giant windows. A tour guide walks you through and describes both the history of the company and how the various snack foods are produced.
Our guide tell us it all started with the humble pretzel, but today, Snyder’s manufactures 10 categories of different pretzels. They factory uses 100 tons of pretzel salt a month and 4000 pounds of dough an hour. Snyder’s is the biggest snack factory in the country with 8,000 employees, and their equipment is powered by a solar farm on 27,000 acres. The factory operates 24/7 every day, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. In just one hour, the Snyder’s system produces more than 1.2 million pretzels. Although the research team is always introducing new flavors and products, the original Snyder’s Pretzel hasn’t changed its recipe since the 1930’s.
The Utz Factory is currently owned by the fourth generation of the original Utz Family. At the factory, visitors take a self guided tour with taped explanations of the mechanized system you ca watch through huge panoramic windows. You’ll see how the raw potato is fried in sunflower oil and transformed into a crunchy chip. Utz produces 170,000 pounds of their famous potato chips every hour. Any rejected potatoes are shipped to a nearby cattle farm, the leftover starch is used by the paper industry.
Martin’s is owned by the Potter Family. It’s a smaller operation, but on the tour, you get up close and personal with the people making the snacks. After putting on sterile gear, like hair and shoe coverings, you literally stand by the conveyor belts as the chips go streaming by you. A guy is stirring a giant pot of caramel or cheesy popcorn while you watch. Your guides will share many interesting facts on the tour, such as the variety of seasonings integrated into their signature chips, including lime, lemon, beer, whiskey and garlic.
Martin’s top seller is their kettle-cooked style of chip which is beloved by former President Bill Clinton. While he was president, he requested they be served on Air Force One…and they still are. A truck filled with Martin’s products are delivered regularly to The White House. They are also shipped worldwide from Andrews Air Force Base for troops serving overseas.
Since the revitalization of its historic downtown, York has attracted innovative new businesses, like York City Pretzel Company (39 W. Market St.), a root-beer-bar founded by five locals who pined for authentic German pretzels. Evan Speelman is head baker: “We couldn’t find a decent soft pretzel in the snack capital of the world. So we decided to make our own.”
Customers roll and fold their own dough, and after baking, the Bavarian-style pretzels are served with savory dipping sauces. They host anniversaries, graduations, birthdays, happy hour and other special events here. Above are some pictures of me and my friend Rachel Cooper of DC Travel’s About.com rolling the dough and producing our own pretzels. They are off-the-charts fantastic. I would drive back to York just to eat one again!
Among the many independently owned shops and boutiques, one standout is Sunrise Soap Co. (29 N. Beaver St) featuring organic handmade soaps in a rainbow of scents and colors. You won’t believe how many different scents they’ve incorporated into their soaps and lotions. Be on the lookout for Baron Von Schwein, a York-based food truck serving innovative German delicacies. Right outside of town is the Harley Davidson Factory and Museum; the free factory tour takes visitors behind the scenes for a look at how the iconic motorcycles are designed, manufactured, built and shipped.
Anchoring York’s renaissance is Central Market (34 W. Philadelphia St.). One of the oldest in America, Central Market functions as a vibrant community-gathering place, and source of locally farmed produce and meats. It’s attached to Mudhook Brewing Company, where they make York’s most popular craft beer. If you decide to spend the night in York, make a reservation at the luxurious, historic Yorktowne Hotel in downtown York. This stately building is centrally located, has huge suites and gorgeous views. So go ahead, get your crunch on in York, PA.