SEATTLE — If you get a mushy fry at Seattle’s iconic Dick’s Drive-In, don’t blame the cooks. Blame the Washington potato shortage.
A delayed harvest and fewer seedlings planted means Washington’s famously fry-able potatoes are in short supply this year. Fries made from any other spuds just aren’t the same.
“We are at the very end of the season on our Washington potatoes and they are not producing fries up to our standards,” the Seattle-based restaurant announced on its website and Facebook page last week. The restaurant said if a customer finds a fry that “isn’t satisfying,” they should bring it back to the window for a replacement.
What makes a Washington potato special? It’s more than just state pride — it’s science.
Potatoes from Washington are drier than other spuds, which means they fry to a crisp on the outside with a nice fluffy texture inside. They also typically have fewer internal blemishes.
“We grow generally higher-quality potatoes in Washington than come from Idaho,” said Tim Waters, a regional vegetable specialist at Washington State University. “They fry more consistently, and they’re a nicer-looking product generally.”
But right now, there’s a shortage of these coveted Washington spuds.
Typically, potato growers plant the crop in late February and early March, then harvest from around the Fourth of July through the fall months. The potatoes from the early harvest get shipped out right away, while the crop harvested later in the season goes into storage. Those storage potatoes can usually satisfy demand until the next season.
This year, the harvest was about 2½ weeks late because of unseasonably cold and rainy spring weather. Washington growers also planted fewer plants this year after the potato wart disease was detected on Canada’s “spud island,” one of Washington’s biggest seed suppliers.
Dick’s uses fresh potatoes instead of frozen, which makes a steady potato supply crucial, CEO Jasmine Donovan said.
“We use real live potatoes that we cut right there,” Donovan said. “Very few people make fries that way anymore.”
Dick’s tries to source its potatoes from Washington because, Donovan said, the shorter distance the potato travels, the less opportunity it has to be exposed to extreme temperatures.
Washington not only produces high-quality potatoes but large quantities of them, Waters said. The state grows 20 percent of the country’s potatoes, according to the Washington State Potato Commission, and growers here harvest twice as many tons of potatoes per acre than the average U.S. producer.
As the Dick’s Drive-In post reminds customers, “New potatoes are coming out of the ground as you read this!”
Waters confirmed the harvest is underway statewide, but it will take a week or two for suppliers to get the spuds to their final destinations.