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This potato promotion is no half-baked idea

Kristie Wolfe Larry Bastnext Big Idaho PotaTruck Texas Roadhouse restaurant Tinley Park. The 'Tater Team' members call big rig home

Kristie Wolfe and Larry Bathe stand next to the Big Idaho Potato Truck at the Texas Roadhouse restaurant in Tinley Park. The "Tater Team" members call the big rig home for nearly six months as they tour the country for the Idaho Potato Commission. | Ginger Brashinger/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 11, 2014 6:30AM



The Oscar Meyer Wienermobile is small potatoes compared with the Big Idaho Potato Truck that pulled into the Texas Roadhouse restaurant’s parking lot Wednesday in Tinley Park.

The spud truck, according to driver Larry Bathe, “from nose to tail” is 72 feet long and 12 feet wide. It carries a 28-foot replica of an Idaho potato.

Bathe and the other Boise, Idaho, residents of the “Tater Team” — Kristie Wolfe and Ivan Manney — will spend 51/2 months living out of their potato headquarters while they tour the country as part of a promotion by the Idaho Potato Commission, going “from event to event,” Bathe said.

“It is grand recognition,” Bathe said. “The (commission is) farmers. They’re good people, and they want to do good things.”

At Texas Roadhouse, “good things” came in small packages for the first 50 visitors. The restaurant passed out certificates for a free baked potato to be collected inside the restaurant, or a small brown bag of peanuts with a certificate for an appetizer for those who came late to the potato party. Participants gave canned goods or money donations for the Tinley Park Food Pantry in return.

“Everybody can reap the benefits,” Texas Roadhouse local store marketer Donna Lorent-Migliorese said.

The spud table featured a prize wheel, which offered players the opportunity to walk away with a “Spuddy Buddy” mascot, a promotional hat or some type of electronic device.

The Kotsonis family, of Homer Glen, stopped to see what was happening as the family passed the restaurant along Interstate 80.

“We just came from the Sox game and we were on the expressway and we saw the potato and Paul wanted to touch it,” Phyllis Kotsonis said.

Paul, 7, not only touched the potato, which he said felt “real,” but he spun the wheel for a prize. Paul said he didn’t like potatoes until he was reminded that French fries are potatoes and he changed his mind.

Not everyone was taken by surprise by the giant spud. John Shulmistras, of Orland Park, came prepared with canned goods to get his certificate. Shulmistras said he is a “regular customer” of the restaurant and found out about the promotion through a Texas Roadhouse email.

Shulmistras, who said he was “coming out for dinner anyway,” said he was glad to be getting a free baked potato with his meal.

“Idaho potatoes are always my favorite,” Shulmistras said. “Sweet potatoes are No. 2.”



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