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Nirvana, Corn Chip-style

Solving the origin myth of Laguna Beach’s Have’A Chips

A bag of Have’A Corn Chips hasnothingto hide. The translucent bag lets you see the tantalizing, soy-stained product within. Its packaging states, on both front and back, that the only ingredients are corn, soybean oil, soy sauce and a dash of lime. These chips are a pure and uncomplicated snack with no smarmy ad campaign, and they’re one of the county’s best-selling homegrown snacks.

Yet mystery shrouds Have’A Corn Chips. Namely, how did Orange County’s best tortilla chips originate in hippy-dippy, ultra-gabacho Laguna Beach? And who is behind them?

I tried contacting the owners of Have’A Chips. Their phone number is on the bag, but this must be for distributors; call and someone asks for your order number. I left my phone number instead and requested that someone get back to me. Two weeks later, I tried again. “Oh, we don’t talk to press,” a lady told me. Confused, I stammered something about informing my readers. “Are you writing the article anyway?” she asked. Yes. “Well, I can’t promise anything. I might call you back.” She didn’t.

So I settled for the second-best option: Edward (“You don’t need to use my last name. Everyone knows me as Edward”), owner of the Stand, the iconic Laguna Beach vegan restaurant. He ran Have’A in the 1990s after buying the company from founder Larry Dunn. In a story you’d not likely read in Forbes, Edward sold the company back to Dunn a couple of years ago . . . because Dunn wanted to run it again.

Edward credits Have’A’s “grassroots distribution system” for the brand’s continuing popularity. He called the company “a really straightforward, privately owned family business that just wants to make a living and doesn’t want to be publicized in the process.”

It’s understandable that Have’A eschews publicity: they don’t need it. Your average 4-ounce bag contains enough chips for a heavy snack or a light meal. Some chips are the pale yellow of Post-It notes, flecked with soy, while others are entirely bronzed with the sauce. The lighter chips have a fierce crunch; while the darker are less crisp, they’ve got a wholesome, salty earthiness that’s addictive. Try them with sun-dried tomato dip, or guacamole, and the salsa complements the tang of soy perfectly.

The gourmet quality of Have’A Corn Chips makes them a staple at health-food stores, and at 24 bags per case, $1.29 per bag, the numbers add up. Edward estimates the Stand goes through roughly eight to 10 cases of chips a week. Mother’s Market in Costa Mesa sells another 10 cases; it’s their top-selling chip, according to a worker. Trader Joe’s, meanwhile, does not carry Have’A Chips—no reason given, but Laurie at their Huntington Beach store tells me the chips are “made by monks in Laguna.”

She may mean the Hare Krishnas. A Hare Krishna connection to Have’A lingers in the minds of many locals, but it’s a suburban myth. Before September 2001, the front of every bag of Have’A chips bore the Hindu symbol for “Aum,” symbolizing oneness. This symbol is widely used by the Krishnas, who operate the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, a half-mile from Have’A headquarters. “We have nothing to do with Have’A Chips,” said the very soft-spoken guy who answered the phone for the ISKC. After Sept. 11, when some Americans weren’t feeling so much oneness as they were an eager desire to spill the blood of anyone who might look Middle Eastern, the Aum disappeared from sacks of Have’A Chips. But the tales of a Krishna connection persist. “I’m assuming just through the association of the symbol, an ever-present rumor arose that Hare Krishnas made the chips,” says Edward of the Stand. Thus a legend was born, one that Have’A Natural Foods is happy to tolerate.

It seems Have’A is a company of its word. “We don’t do interviews, we just make chips,” said the unidentified lady to whom I spoke. But when they make the best chips in Orange County, they can’t hide forever.

BUY A BAG OF HAVE’A CORN CHIPS AT MOTHER’S MARKET, 225 E. 17TH ST., COSTA MESA, (949) 631-4741; ALSO AT 2963 MICHELSON DR., IRVINE, (949) 752-6667; AND 19770 BEACH BLVD., HUNTINGTON BEACH, (714) 963-6667.

 
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