Family ritual wins mom $1 million in potato chip contest

Karen Weber-Mendham is the creator of the winning Cheesy Garlic Bread potato chip flavor.Today

A Wisconsin mom has turned her family’s ritual of ordering garlic cheesy bread at their local pizzeria into a cool $1 million.

Part-time librarian and mother of three Karen Weber-Mendham of Land O’ Lakes, Wis., is the winner of the Lay’s potato chip competition. Her submission of garlic cheesy bread trumped the other two finalists, Sriracha and Chicken & Waffles, in the company’s online voter–driven “Do us a Flavor” contest.

Weber-Mendham says she got the idea from taking her kids out for pizza—while waiting for their pies, the family always orders garlic cheesy bread, which the kids scarf down after she barely gets a chance to cut it into equal-size pieces.

“They arm-wrestle each other for it!” she told, adding that they now love having the flavor in chip form.

The past few months have been a whirlwind for Weber-Mendham, whose northern Wisconsin town has a population of about 1,000. Earlier in the contest, she got to help ring in the bell at the New York Stock Exchange—“I jumped up and down when I saw my name on a banner on the side of building,” she said—and this week, she’s been crisscrossing the country. She flew to Los Angeles for the big reveal at Beso Restaurant in Hollywood, co-owned by actress Eva Longoria, the face of the campaign.

“Eva was so genuine and happy for me when I won,” Weber-Mendham said. And yes, “She’s as beautiful in person as she looks on TV.”

Before beating out the other finalists, Weber-Mendham first had to beat out nearly 3.8 million other flavor submissions for a top-three slot. A panel of chefs and food experts as well as Longoria and Iron Chef Michael Symon, narrowed down the flavors, and Frito-Lay developed the final three picks and released them in stores this winter. Between February and May, more than a million people voted via Facebook, Twitter and text, the company said.

During the voting, Weber-Mendham’s family always had chips on hand in the house—and gave out as many bags as possible to friends and neighbors, a.k.a. potential voters.

Pick up a bag of the Garlic Cheesy Bread chips, and you’ll be helping Weber-Mendham out: Her grand prize is actually $1 million—or one percent of her flavor’s 2013 net sales, whichever is higher.

Those two runners-up—Christina Abu-Judom from Phoenix, Ariz., who submitted Chicken & Waffles, and Tyler Raineri from Lake Zurich, Ill. who submitted Sriracha—won’t walk away empty-handed, by the way, but they do get considerably less: Each won $50,000 in prize money.

Weber-Mendham is planning one splurge with her potato chip money: a tropical family vacation to Mexico. But for the most part, she’s pretty practical.

“College and braces are at the top of the list.”