The Birth of the Frito The Kitchen Sisters explore the saga of a Texas corn chip and C.E. Doolin, the can-do visionary behind it. Doolin, who envisioned Fritos as a side dish, never imagined anyone would consume an entire king size bag. The story of the Frito is the latest in the "Hidden Kitchens" series.


Today, a new series of Hidden Kitchens begins on MORNING EDITION.

N: The Kitchen Sisters follow the saga of another Lone Star pioneer in a story they call "The Birth of the Frito."


KALETA DOOLIN: He bought the recipe patent and 14 customers from a man who was from Mexico who lived in San Antonio. It's a masa, fried in corn oil, salted. Dad named it Fritos. It means fried thing. That's what they are in Mexico, they're Fritos - the beach food, the little fried stuff. He began the manufacturing with his mother and brother in the kitchen. They were making them by hand, using a potato ricer with a slot instead of a little round hole, bagging them and selling them by day to gas stations.


ALAN GOVENAR: He had lots of hidden kitchens. He had the kitchen off to the side of his office. He had the kitchen at home. He had factories, and on the counter, he had a line of Bunsen burners with little tripods with metal trays on top of them. I'm Alan Govenar. I'm Kaleta's husband. He was always experimenting, mixing up new flavors. He'd call the employees into his office and have them taste the different flavoring for the chips.

DOOLIN: Part of the secret ingredients of Frito is that it's his own corn. There were experimental farms where he was hybridizing his own corn and trying to discover ways to use the by-products. He and his brother invented a lot of the machinery, did all of the conveyor belt like, you know, Ford automobiles, the mechanization of snack food.


CHARLES ELMER DOOLIN: Here, our ingredient cost had never exceeded 54 percent. We would have added five more months to the...

DOOLIN: He worked constantly. He had a recording machine in his car.


DOOLIN: ...profitable months. When we add 13 percent of the flavor...

KATHERINE DOOLIN: He was big and handsome, and my first impression was, oh my. Our wedding was scheduled for eight o'clock in the morning. The reason I was given is that we have to be on the road by ten, on the way to California and open that plant.



GOVENAR: Texas of that era was a hotbed of kind of populist thinking. It was a right-to-work state. It was a can-do kind of place. The East Texas oil fields were discovered in the midst of the Depression. There was hope that people could make something out of nothing. And I think that he was part of that spirit.

DOOLIN: Unidentified Group: (Singing) Munch-a-bunch bunch bunch munch, Fritos go with lunch.


DOOLIN: Well, I never brought Fritos to school. We didn't have them at home that much. And when we did, Dad brought them off the conveyor belt with no salt on them. Dad was into health food. He was the treasurer of the Natural Food Association. We always went to the meetings. He was a follower of Dr. Shelton in San Antonio, who had a clinic for fasting.


HERBERT SHELTON: Before I undertake to tell you how to assure yourself at all times an abundance of energy, I'm going to tell you how you dissipate your energy. Because if you didn't dissipate it, you would have an abundance of energy. We do not need to know what nerve energy is. We need to know only the laws of its operation, then we can deal with nerve energy as intelligently and as certainly as the electrical engineer deals with electricity.

DOOLIN: Dad was vegetarian. He had a bad heart and bad lungs and weight problems. And he was looking for alternative cures. We were raised vegetarian, and people made fun of me for eating yogurt and figs in my sack lunch.


BILL HAYES: (Singing) Born on the mountaintop, in Tennessee...

DOOLIN: He had an experimental restaurant in Disneyland when it was first built, in Frontierland, called Casa de Fritos. He had a little restaurant here in Dallas, also, that was a hybrid of hamburgers and Mexican food. He was on the verge of starting fast food. If he'd lived a little bit longer, McDonald's might be McFrito's or something.



DOOLIN: I actually didn't think Fritos were so very different from Mexican tortillas. It's just a little bit different process, very handy and tasty and a great step forward, in my opinion.

DOOLIN: Mom would use Fritos in cooking, making up recipes. Frito Key pie was one of her inventions. Recipes were printed on the back of the bag. One of the most strange ones is called Jets - melted dark chocolate with Fritos, dropped onto a cookie sheet to solidify - fat on top of fat.


AMOS: "The Birth of the Frito" was produced by The Kitchen Sisters, whose book "Hidden Kitchens" is now available in paperback. Photographs from the Doolin family archive and recipes for Frito pie and Frito chocolate crunchies are at

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