Aprons, vegetable peelers, potatoes, hand-blended spices and hot grease weren’t involved in Sarah Paddack’s former life. But all those ingredients and more sit on the front burner of her life today, as the owner and operator of Chipwrecked, a teeny, tiny restaurant in downtown Pismo Beach specializing in made-to-order gourmet potato chips.

“It will be seven (years) this summer,” Paddack said about how long she has operated at 246 Pomeroy Ave., which at the height of the summer season cranks out 400 pounds of potatoes turned chips every week. “Crazy,” she added. “It goes by so slow and so fast all at the same time.”

Born and raised in the Five Cities, Paddack graduated in 1992 from Arroyo Grande High School, attending Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria and then Cal Poly. She and her husband, Dan, left the area for a short time—they relocated to Northern California—after she graduated university but quickly returned.

“We had made a goal that by the time (our daughter) was school-aged, 5, we would be back here,” Paddack said. “We were back by the time she was 1. It’s just such a good place to be a kid and I figured it would be a good place to raise a kid.”

Paddack spent her childhood playing in the Village of Arroyo Grande, where cats roamed freely. Both of her parents also graduated from Arroyo Grande High School, where her now 16-year-old daughter, Larkin, will receive her diploma next year, and her grandfather was principal in the ’60s and ’70s. Paddack’s parents still live locally.

Never dreaming of owning a restaurant, especially one specializing in gourmet potato chips, Paddack thought she’d have a career that had something to do with math, a subject she excelled at during school.

“I was very good at math and always imagined I would do something with math, system-thinking, logic,” she said. “(Owning a restaurant), I never would have seen it, but in some ways it makes sense.”

Paddack spent the better part of her adult life working for the nonprofit sector, where she headed Central Coast Salmon Enhancement—a South County-based environmental nonprofit committed to helping the community strengthen, protect and understand local watersheds and their fisheries—prior to becoming a professional chip maker.

“A completely different life,” is how she described her career in the world of nonprofits before opening Chipwrecked with her husband Dan, who has since left the eatery. Paddack mostly runs the business by herself. “It was great and I enjoyed it,” Paddack said of the time where most of her days were logged at a desk. “I didn’t really know I was going to be leaving (my job) when we opened this. (But) you don’t always get that moment in time, where you can say, ‘Let’s go.’”

The couple settled on a potato chip-based restaurant after Paddack’s mom, Deborah Love, made what Paddack called on off-hand comment one day about opening a place specializing in fresh chips. Love loves chips (no pun intended), Paddack said, noting crispy, fried slices of potato goodness are her mom’s favorite snack food.

“I think in the back of her mind she was thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to make chips at home one day,’ and we were like, ‘You know what,’” Paddack said. Larkin came up with the restaurant’s name through a family play on words—shipwrecked—which fits with the eatery’s close proximity to the ocean, and Paddack said she always loves a good theme.

Walking into the small eatery that has several tables and some limited standing room, customers are greeted by a large pirate flag draping the restaurant’s back wall. Chips are called chipwrecks, chip dip is known as a tugboat and sandwiches are named for ports of call.

“We have created a whole vernacular,” Paddack said of the menu. “I love it when people come in with someone who doesn’t know (the restaurant) and they teach them the Chipwrecked language.”

Paddack saw herself in a support role when she and Dan launched Chipwrecked—a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the couple—but said after the doors opened to customers, the San Luis Obispo County native began thriving in the tiny, oftentimes chaotic, restaurant kitchen, as well as behind the counter.

“I like to be learning every day and I like to be challenged every day,” she said about owning a restaurant and taking on the potato chip-making venture with no prior experience. Dan had worked in the food-and-beverage industry before opening Chipwrecked, but Paddack had not.

“We literally bought a little, itty, bitty fryer and started frying some potatoes at home,” she explained. “We made up a couple of flavors and thought like is kind of cool. The more you make … and the more you eat, you realize, ‘Oh my gosh, this can be a chip flavor and that can be a chip flavor, and why aren’t chips flavored with this?’”

With years of making potato chips and running the small business under her apron strings, Paddack still learns when she goes to work, where she makes fresh, cooked-to-order, unique, gourmet potato chips, as well as sandwiches, named for those ports of call like Port Astoria (tuna salad), Port Marseilles (egg salad) or the Port Modena (turkey club) and salads. She also creates a soup every few days. Laughing, Paddack said people who follow Chipwrecked on Instagram (@chipwrecked) probably think it’s a soup restaurant because the majority of her posts aren’t of potato chips; posts are of that day’s soup flavor, which people want to see, she said.

At the restaurant, customers order their chipwrecks, such as the USS Constitution (sea salt), the Santa Maria (smokey flavors of the Central Coast), the Mary Rose (lavender salt, goat cheese and honey) or the Jolly Roger (a birthday cake chip), with a tugboat—house made dipping sauces. Flavors change daily and range from ranch to beer, cheese, and more.

“We always joke the chips are just an edible spoon for eating more dip,” Paddack said with a smile, adding she doesn’t understand when people turn down a dip, which are free with every chip order. “I’m like why would you even eat a chip?”

As well as the tried-and-true chip flavors that Chipwrecked is known for, like the Mary Rose or the La Belle (chip with truffle and Parmesan) or the Ashari Maru (sea salt chips topped with blue cheese, chives and house made teriyaki), Paddack also makes flavors not featured on the menu, like cheeseburger, pizza, tri-tip, strawberry shortcake and much, much more.

She jokes her secret menu is larger than In-n-Out’s. Paddack isn’t sure where she sees herself or Chipwrecked in the future, but for now she’s happy to keep creating new chip flavors for her customers, some of whom she only sees once a year when they come to Pismo Beach on vacation.

“They come in and say, ‘We’re back from wherever. We remember the last time we came to Pismo and we’re so glad you’re here again. We’ve been telling our friends and family about you,’” she said. “I have seen people get married, have babies and kids go to college. So I get this 10-minute snippet of people’s lives … and I never realized how cool it would be to get to know customers and their stories. It really is such a fun way to spend the day.”

For more information, visit www.chipwreckedinpismo.com or call (805) 556-5272.