Auntie Anne’s Pretzels: Life Is As Twisted As A Pretzel
Navigating through the twists and turns of life created one of the world’s most successful franchises.
The origins of Auntie Anne’s pretzels are anything but ordinary. The real Auntie behind the popular pretzels navigated a series of unfortunate events and tragic personal loss to come out the other side with one of the most successful franchises in the world.
The aroma of freshly baked goods and homegrown happiness permeate the air when you enter an Auntie Anne’s pretzel store. No matter what location around the globe, the fresh smell of soft pretzels never changes. Like being home, you are greeted by a familiar smile and served familiar delights. Many people ask if there is a real Auntie Anne behind this universal feeling of cheer brought on by the delicious twists of dough.
Who is Auntie Anne?
Over half a century ago, a girl sat at her doorstep awaiting her parents. With a horse and buggy, they made their way down to the 100-acre farm with the buggy bumping and grunting behind the tired horse. She saw them in the distance and stood up with excitement. With them, a bag of flour and some goods. The horse stopped in front of the home. The little girl joyfully ran up to get her supplies. She was the baker and cook, making bread, pies, and other items to sell at the family market stand.
The Amish family adhered to their religious principles, in which driving a car was forbidden. In Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, this little girl named Anne Beiler began a humble journey that would end up being the largest soft-pretzel franchise in the world. Today, it has 1,800 outlets in malls, airports, and boardwalks in 48 states and more than 25 countries.
In 2012, the brand called Auntie Anne generated sales of $410 million. Beiler grew up in an Amish community and credits that upbringing for much of her success. Eventually, the family adopted a slightly less orthodox faith known as “black-car Amish,” because it allowed them to drive vehicles (must be black) and use electricity in certain situations.
When Beiler turned 19, she joined the Mennonite church. The Mennonites are far more open to the use of technology than the orthodox Amish sects. Attending church frequently, the structure she was brought up in was an ideal education when it came to business. She was disciplined, knew how to work in a team, and had an extremely high level of perseverance.
Anne married her husband, Jonas Beiler, in 1968. They were happy. Always dreaming of being a mother, she had two daughters. But in 1975, tragedy struck. Her older daughter, Angela, was accidentally killed by a tractor on their land. Beiler’s life spiraled into darkness. The previously happy couple found it difficult to communicate or process the loss.
She sought counseling with the pastor of their church to help her process the pain and grief she was feeling. Sadly, the pastor physically took advantage of her in their first session and, later, abused her sexually. The pastor was eventually exposed to have sexually abused multiple women and children over many years.
In 1982, she began to rebuild her life again, with her husband. He knew her for the good and kind person she was. After learning so much from their dark periods, her husband became a counselor himself, seeking to help others in their community for free. Supporting her husband’s dreams, Beiler went to work to support his vision.
Beiler was able to find work two hours away in Maryland. She took the $200 a week part-time job managing a concession stand at a farmer’s market. Even at this point, she never expected to start a pretzel company. However, this served as training for what was to come.
“We started out of great need that we had, to make ends meet in our family,” she said in an interview with an online magazine, “I went to work to support my husband.”
A Twist of Fate
It may have been by divine providence, but a bit of luck found its way back into their lives. Beiler heard that an Amish-owned stand in a farmers’ market was for sale. They specialized in pretzels, ice cream, and pizza. With the help of their parents, they purchased the small business and thus, the roots of the international franchise began to take form. They fixed it up and prayed for new beginnings. They called it “Auntie Anne’s Hand Rolled Soft Pretzels.”
“At one point that day, I stood there and thought, ‘Why did I do this? I don’t think I can do this.’ Then a guy came into the store with flowers from my husband. His note said, ‘You can do this, honey. Go for it.’” says Beiler.
At first, the pretzel sales were horrible. Beiler was ready to abandon her business until her husband decided to experiment with the pretzel recipe. What they did, the ingredient that was added, remains a secret. Sales boomed, and things began to speed up.
They acquired more and more locations. They expanded. With that money her husband could help more people through his counseling. Since the beginning, they always gave back, and always will. The company partnered with Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF). Since 2011, the company has raised more than $4.1 million for ALSF’s mission to cure childhood cancer through a series of events, tournaments, and collaborations. ALSF, in addition to Auntie Anne’s C.A.R.E.S. and many other endeavors were designed to give back to the community.
From 1999 through 2009, Auntie Anne’s donated $4.5 million to local children’s hospitals via the Children’s Miracle Network. These are merely a few of the ways they give back. Beiler has been a source of inspiration and hope for thousands, even millions.
The Pretzel Legacy Continues
Today, Auntie Anne’s is the biggest soft-pretzel franchise on the planet. According to a company spokesperson, they had domestic sales of more than $524 million in 2015. By this time, however, “Auntie Anne” herself was no longer involved with the franchise. In 2005, Anne sold the company to dedicate her life to her family.
“I’d taken the company to a place that exceeded my expectations, and I didn’t see myself physically able to keep doing it. So I approached Sam Beiler, my second cousin, hoping he’d be interested in buying the company. He was, and we sold it on April 15, 2005,” says Beiler.
With counseling, tough conversations, faith, and time, she had rebuilt her relationships and is in a good place. Beiler gives credit to Jonas for never quitting on her. Through thick and thin, he always stood by her.
Anne and Jonas have created something far bigger than a pretzel shop. And all we at Throomers can say to this pair of humanitarian entrepreneurs is … Thank You. Click here to learn more about Anne in our exclusive Q&A. To see what she is up to today and learn of her current initiatives, please visit https://www.auntieannebeiler.com.
Are you a pretzel lover? Check out Auntie Anne’s website for all kinds of great information at https://www.auntieannes.com/. You’ll also find a great app and information on franchises.