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Local man’s uncles invented the tater tot, and he wants to celebrate its history with new festival

Leslie Grigg, left, at a tater tot festival in Oregon holding a replica of the board that made the first tater tots. Watch him tell the story in the video above. | Courtesy photos and video
AMMON – For more than 70 years, Ore-Ida has been a major brand behind frozen potato products. One of its most popular items, Golden Tater Tots, was invented by its owners as a way to use the slivers that are left over after making french fries.
Today, tater tots are Ore-Ida’s crown jewel and are an iconic side dish some polls say are more popular than french fries. Americans consume about 70 million pounds of tater tots every year, according to kitchen equipment maker Pitco.
Though the company that introduced them is based in Oregon, it built a plant in Idaho 63 years ago and entered into an agreement with J.R. Simplot last year to make it the exclusive supplier and manufacturer of Ore-Ida products.
The nephew of Ore-Ida’s founders lives right here in eastern Idaho. Leslie Grigg, 71, of Ammon, recently launched a foundation aimed at preserving the history of the tater tot. He and his cousin, Steve Grigg, of Utah, are hoping to launch a tater tot festival in Idaho Falls next summer.
In a conversation with EastIdahoNews.com, Leslie shared the little known history of this quintessentially Idaho snack food.

Golden and Nephi Grigg founded Ore-Ida and created the tater tot. | Courtesy Leslie Grigg
The birth of the tater tot
About a year after the launch of Ore-Ida, Grigg’s great uncles, Nephi and Golden Grigg, were having success making french fries and were looking for a way to use the leftover potato shavings.
“The shavings from the french fry product would go into a big bin. They would take that and deliver it to the cattle farmers,” Leslie explains. “These were Russet-grade potatoes they were basically throwing away for nothing.”
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The Grigg brothers thought about it for a while and eventually decided to collect them in a pan, add some seasonings, run it through holes in a board and put the circular-shaped product into a deep fryer.
The board was dubbed the “holey board” but due to a typo that left out the “e,” it’s now remembered as the “holy board.” It sits behind glass at Ore-Ida’s headquarters in Ontario, Oregon.

Parley P. Pratt, left, an early leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. | Courtesy photos
A surprising connection between early Latter-day Saint leader and tater tots
Parley P. Pratt, an apostle in the early years of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, played an indirect role in the tater tot’s invention.
His granddaughter, Thankful, married Parley Grigg. They are the parents of Ore-Ida founders Nephi and Golden Grigg.
Leslie explains the church practiced polygamy at that time. Pratt had 12 wives, one of whom was Sarah Houston. The Grigg line came through that union.
At the time (1953), this new potato creation didn’t have a name. The Grigg boys knew they’d need a catchy name before they tried to sell it.
“They decided to have a naming contest and a woman by the name of Clora Lay Orton came up with the word ‘tater tot,’” Leslie says.
The following year, Nephi and Golden Grigg attended a national convention at the Fontainebleau resort in Miami, Florida to try and introduce tater tots nationally.
Leslie says they packed up 15 pounds of tater tots in a cooler with ice and spoke to the chef at the back door of the venue.
“My uncle Nephi pulled a $100 bill out of his pocket and said, ‘This is yours if you’ll cook a bunch of these potato pieces and put some on every table in the restaurant,’” Leslie says.
The man agreed and the tater tots were the hit of the entire convention.
“That’s where (the tater tot’s) national popularity had its beginning and started to gel and take off,” says Leslie. “By 1960, they were producing $20 million in sales. Sales doubled in ’61 and doubled again in ’62.”
‘From an iconic food to the Ronald McDonald House of Ore-Ida’
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the tater tot’s creation. Since launching the F. Nephi and Golden Grigg Legacy Foundation, Leslie’s been hard-at-work to make sure its story is known.
He and Steve have tried to obtain the original “holy board.” Several years ago, he met with Kraft Heinz executives. Heinz bought Ore-Ida in 1965, but Heinz merged with Kraft in 2015. Leslie discovered the corporation wasn’t even aware the “holy board” existed.
“They were clueless,” Leslie says, laughing.
The agreement Ore-Ida signed with J.R. Simplot last year gave the Boise plant possession of the “holy board.” Leslie is now working with J.R. Simplot to revise the narrative to make sure it’s included.
As part of that effort, he and Steve are partnering with multiple companies to bring an annual tater tot festival to eastern Idaho. He’s hoping it will debut in 2024 on the weekend before Aug. 18, which is National Potato Day.
Along the way, he wants to use the festival as a way to raise money for a cause. Leslie’s been involved in child abuse prevention for years and he wants to help the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center in Idaho Falls build a new Family Justice Center.
“Our objective is to elevate tater tots from being an iconic food to becoming the Ronald McDonald House of Ore-Ida,” Leslie says. “But we’re focusing on child abuse prevention rather than needy families in hospitals.”

The original “holy board” used to make the first tater tots now sits behind glass. The crayons in the lower right corner were used by the Grigg brothers to make the first tater tot ad. | Courtesy Leslie Grigg

An Ore-Ida semi-trailer advertising tater tots. The photo was taken in about 1955. | Courtesy Leslie Grigg
The post Local man’s uncles invented the tater tot, and he wants to celebrate its history with new festival appeared first on East Idaho News.
Source: eastidahonews.com

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