F. Nephi and Golden Grigg had a frozen potato company in Oregon, but it took a trip to the South for Tater Tots to become a culinary legend.
Eater took a deep-dive into the history of the frozen potato nugget and turns out it all started in the basement of the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami at the 1954 National Potato Convention.
The delicious golden treat was the invention of the Grigg brothers. In the mid-1940s, families had just discovered the wonders of frozen dinner. According to Eater, between 1945 and 1946, Americans bought 800 million pounds of frozen food and the Grigg brothers wanted in on the action. The Grigg brothers were farmers with a vision and wanted in on the action. They founded the Ore-Ida company and bought a flash-freezing plant in Northeastern Oregon, where they quickly cornered the market on frozen corn. However, they knew that the real money was in frozen french fries. There was just one problem: they didn’t know how to make them without wasting as many potatoes as they used. While the cows living near the plant were well-fed on potato scraps, the Grigg brothers hated to waste their hard-earned potatoes.
That’s when the Griggs had a stroke of genius—they took the leftover potatoes from their french fry making, mashed them together, shaped them into little gems, fried them in oil, and then flash froze them. According to Eater, who read through Nephi Griggs’s written history of Tater Tots, the name came from a salesman who “traveled the markets playing a ukelele and demonstrating our product.” While the salesman’s name has been lost over time, his legacy lives on in the product he named: Tater Tots.
After trademarking the name for their new potato gems, the Grigg brothers needed to convince buyers to try their new product. That’s when they decided to head to the South to the annual gathering of potato lovers. Nephi Grigg packed 15 pounds of Tater Tots into his luggage and headed to Miami and the then-brand new Fontainebleau Hotel. Once there, he bribed the hotel chef to whip up a batch of Tater Tots and serve them to the attendees of the National Potato Convention for sampling. “These were all gobbled up faster than a dead cat could wag its tail,” Nephi Grigg wrote, according to Eater. The brothers sold their first batch of golden potato nuggets after the Convention— and the legend of Tater Tots was born.
Now, Americans consume over 70 million pounds of Tots per year and thanks to recipes like Tater Tot Breakfast Bake, Chili-Cheese Potato-Tot Casserole, and Tater Nachos, we’re guessing many of those Tots are eaten in the South. These days, Tater Tots are trendy again, popping up in bars and restaurants all over the South—and we are more than happy to indulge.