The Better Made brand and its products are iconic Detroit snacks, giving both the city as well as the greater state of Michigan a unique claim to fame: There is a potato-chip factory inside one of the oldest cities in the United States.
This year, Better Made celebrated its 90th anniversary of being in business. Founded in 1930, Better Made was the 50-50 partnership of two Sicilian men who were lifelong friends – though occasionally had just as significant fights – and created a company that has lasted generations.
To celebrate, Better Made is upping its commitment to Detroit, boosting its donations to local nonprofit organizations and first responders, adding some new flavors and honoring its past with a new design on its bags and equally legendary tins of salty snacks.
These are the best of times in some ways for the nonagenarian company, which has been on Detroit’s Gratiot Avenue for more than 50 years. Better Made came about in part because Detroit was growing so quickly in 1930 – it was the kind of place where two young immigrants could start their own business and feed the hungry residents of one of America’s largest and more successful cities.
“Our roots are here,” said Phil Gusmano, who has worked at Better Made for more than 20 years for good reason – he is part of this foodie family that has always called Detroit home.
Gusmano is the Vice President of Procurement and a member of the Board of Directors for Better Made Snack Foods, which owns and operates the Better Made brand of chips, popcorn and potato sticks. Better Made also is a distributor of many other snack-related products, including its popular licorice and more.
Gusmano also is the grandson of the company’s co-founder, Pete Cipriano. Cipriano created Better Made with co-founder Cross Moceri. The company’s original name, Cross & Peters, represents the two men, who came over to Detroit from Italy in the 1920s. Both Cipriano and Moceri have passed, but the Cipriano family still runs the business.
“We are from the city and the city is important to us,” Gusmano said. “We wouldn’t be here without the city.”
That’s true for a variety of reasons, mainly because more than 70 percent of Better Made’s employees come from Detroit and live in the neighborhoods closest to its only factory. Better Made’s main manufacturing plant, offices and related businesses all run out of its Gratiot facility, which takes up nearly an entire city block at this point.
Gusmano said some of its employees have worked there for more than 30 years; one employee worked there for an impressive 56 years in total. Gusmano said his family focuses on employees, paying a living wage and supporting the city in any way it can.
Better Made also is well known for its donations to organizations near and far. During the coronavirus pandemic, Better Made has focused on donations to frontline workers, hospitals and public safety officers across Metro Detroit, he said.
“One of the biggest things we do is keep it local,” Gusmano said. “We’re a local company (and) we’re just trying to make sure we keep people fed. But that’s because of our great employees and a staff that is second to none. They came in and did their jobs, even in a pandemic. We felt we had a responsibility to this country to continue to do what we do.”
Yes, it’s potato chips. But this food means something to many people, Gusmano said.
“It’s a comfort food,” Gusmano said. “When this all hit and people were sitting in their house, they wanted their Better Made and we made sure they could get it.”