PEI

High-speed french fry cutting machines launched on P.E.I.

An Island entrepreneur wants to help restaurants cut their own handmade french fries.

'I've got faith in this equipment, I know it's going to work'

Demonstrating a new french fry cutting machine in P.E.I. 1:03

When Hamid Sanayie came to P.E.I. from the United Kingdom nine years ago and opened Water Street Fish and Chips in Charlottetown, he was surprised some restaurants on an island famed for growing some of the world's best potatoes use frozen french fries instead of fresh, hand-cut ones. 

Sanayie — who is originally from Iran — hopes to change that with fry-cutting machines that can cut 23 kilograms or 50 pounds or potatoes in less than a minute. 

"I've got faith in this equipment, I know it's going to work. This is something we need in North America," said the 56-year-old entrepreneur from Hopkins PEI, in an industrial park on Charlottetown's outskirts.

Needed modifications

The company is affiliated with a company in the U.K. called Hopkins.

Sanayie said the U.K. machines required some modifications to suit the North American market, and U.S. safety standards.

Hamid Sanayie stands in the kitchen of his restaurant, Water St. Fish and Chips, with one of the french fry cutting machines he's now manufacturing for export. (Sara Fraser/CBC )

"Back in U.K. for instance they don't eat potatoes with the skin on, but we do over here. So we had to change the machine," he said. 

The first of the P.E.I. machines have been operating for the past year at his own establishment as well as two other large-volume restaurants in Charlottetown: The Olde Dublin Pub and Gahan House.  

The machines retail for about $6,200 each.

'It's a great product'

Although the Olde Dublin Pub stopped using it's Hopkins fry-cutter, owner Liam Dolan said it wasn't the machine's fault — the pub just couldn't manage the work involved and the space needed for storing and handling the high volume of raw potatoes. 

Hamid Sanayie believes there's no reason restaurants on the Island can't make their own french fries rather than using frozen. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

"It's a great product," said Dolan, noting it was just too hard for staff to daily lug 10 to 15 bags of potatoes weighing 23-kilograms each up three floors to the historic pub.

A restaurant promoting hand-cut fries as a signature dish would be a perfect fit for the machines, Dolan added. 

'Return on investment'

Sanayie said he has found a market. He's already sold 20 of the machines, he said, and has just received orders for 20 more, which he hopes to have ready by around Christmas. 

"I sold one to Moncton, the guy had been using 700 pounds a day for french fries. For those places the return on investment is usually about four months," Sanayie said. "Because the time it takes to cut one bag of potatoes [with a hand cutter] is 20 minutes: with the machine, it's about one minute." 

A welder works on a fry cutter at Hopkins PEI in the West Royalty Business Park in Charlottetown. (Submitted by Hopkins PEI)

He's also hoping to bring in business from the U.S.

"We were in Chicago the last two years at the NRA show, the National Restaurant Association, and nobody'd seen these machines in the U.S.," Sanayie said. "A big part of our job is educating people." 

'I'm a workaholic'

Sanayie has received funding from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and from the P.E.I. government for wage subsidies, marketing and travel to trade shows. He's also invested $180,000 of his own money, he said. 

Hopkins PEI french fry cutters ready to be shipped to waiting customers across North America. (Submitted by Hopkins PEI )

Hopkins employs five — soon to be six — other people at its manufacturing facility.

"I like it. I'm a workaholic," he laughs of the effort of getting the business off the ground. "I'm running three businesses right now!" He also runs a seasonal restaurant in Cavendish in summer.

He hopes the fry-cutter business will turn a profit in 2017, he added.

About the Author

Sara Fraser

Web Journalist

Sara is a P.E.I. native who graduated from the University of King's College in Halifax. N.S., with a Bachelor of Journalism (Honours) degree. She's worked with CBC Radio and Television since 1988, moving to the CBC P.E.I. web team in 2015, focusing on weekend features. email sara.fraser@cbc.ca