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Updated: March 22, 2021 Entrepreneur Business Leaders

Business Leaders: These three entrepreneurs are growing Maine Crisp faster than barley

PHOTO / Tim Greenway Maine Crisp owners founders Karen and Steve Getz

Karen Getz started Maine Crisp Co. in the basement of her Waterville home in 2014.

The company started small, selling at farmers markets and food co-ops, with the Belfast Food Co-op being an early and loyal supporter. Karen secured financing through Slo Money Maine and CEI to grow the company and Steve joined the effort.

The company moved out of the Getz’s house in 2017 into leased space in Waterville, and Karen’s cranberry-almost crisps won a Sofi award from the Specialty Foods Association in 2018. That year, Mike Ross, business partner of Steve in Pennsylvania, brought his distribution and capital-raising talents to the team as CEO. 

Photo / Courtesy Maine Crisp Co.
Michael Ross, CEO of Maine Crisp Co.

In December, Ross bought a 17,500-square-foot manufacturing building in Winslow that will allow the company to make upgrades, like replacing five small convection ovens with a large roll-in one and more. It also means there is space to triple the workforce, something Steve Getz says will be replicated each year in the next few years as the company expands.

In February, Maine Crisp was one of six Maine businesses awarded a $20,000 Tastemakers Initiative Grant through CEI and FocusMaine. The initiative invests directly into Maine businesses that contribute to the growth of the state’s food economy. Maine Crisp will use the money to help with the design and development of its new plant.

Mainebiz: How did the decision to make the crisp product come about?

Karen Getz: I wanted to create a product showcasing Maine farm ingredients. Buckwheat stood out to me as unique since it grows well in northern Maine, it’s naturally gluten-free and very healthy. My hunch was that it would make a healthier product compared to many gluten-free crackers on the market.

MB: When you began Maine Crisp Co., did you have a vision of how it would grow?

KG: I didn’t have a growth vision mapped out, but loved the early product feedback from co-ops and knew quickly that it had to move out of my home kitchen. 

Photo / Tim Greenway
A Maine Crisp production assistant, Erin Pawliczek, places trays in the oven to bake.

MB: And does that match the reality?

KG: The reality is everything about growing a business takes longer, costs more and is more complicated than originally thought. That said, it’s a lot of work, a lot fun and I thrive on the challenges.

MB: So, where did you think you’d be in 2021?

KG: I thought it would be a nice local business, hopefully operating out of a small commercial facility with a few employees. It’s on a path to much more than that now.

MB: You’re expanding, but staying in the area — what is it about the Waterville area that works well with your business?

Steve Getz: Waterville is undergoing a very positive change with the activities of Colby College investing in the campus and community. With parks, trails, new restaurants and downtown revitalization, it’s attracting new business and attractive for current business to stay and expand. We have a great team in place, good proximity to Interstate 95 and community support, it’s a great place to grow the business.

MB: Did you have to adjust your business plan for COVID-19?

SG: COVID-19 has been brutal on so many fronts, from canceled events, to no sampling and most importantly, hard on our team and families. We refocused our business plan on local production, found a nearby facility for expansion, opened new online channels and found two national distributors that love the products and are helping us to expand to major new markets.

We’re hopeful for a strong second half of the year with vaccines widely available, business picking up for our independent stores and our expansion nationwide.

MB: Aside from COVID changes, how is your business different now than it was two years ago?

SG: Two years ago, our perspective changed from this being a local business having a nice selection of New England, to having a nationwide appeal and much larger market. With people seeking better made and healthier snacks and us having a product line that’s certified gluten-free, non-GMO, kosher and now a plant-based flavor the market is much larger than initially thought.

MB: How do you picture the Maine Crisp Co. of 2026?

SG: We see a thriving business purchasing more Maine grown ingredients by tractor-trailer load, having four times the staff, national recognition for our products and Waterville and Winslow seen as a great community to grow new specialty food businesses.

Mike Ross: We anticipate having a family of brands, including Maine Crisp crackers and a ‘better for you’ snack food product line. We anticipate selling our products in all natural-food supermarkets and specialty food retailers, both domestically and abroad. Our workforce will be a determining factor in our future success.

Mainebiz: What about Maine Crisp made it an appealing company to get involved with?

MR: Prior to joining Maine Crisp, I had owned and operated a snack food wholesaler in central New Jersey. We distributed potato chips, pretzels and the like. I really liked the idea of joining a company that was involved in producing ‘better for you’ food products. Additionally, I have a moderate case of Crohn’s disease and the gluten-free aspect of Maine Crisp’s product line resonated with me.

The most important factor in joining Maine Crisp was its co-founders. From 1995 to 2000, Steve Getz and I co-founded and eventually sold a telecom software company. That experience of being in the trenches with Steve, along with getting to know his family quite well, gave me comfort that we had the right team to drive Maine Crisp to success.

MB: How has the company evolved since you came on board?

MR: Prior to joining Maine Crisp, the company consisted of a founder, Karen Getz, and a great product. Since August 2018, we have developed a fully commercialized business. We now have 12 full-time employees, a dedicated gluten-free manufacturing facility, an online presence, two supermarket chain customers and over 200 specialty food store customers, an advisory board and several accredited investors supporting our growth plans.

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