Ben’s Soft Pretzel’s has grown its reach to include Walmart, Meijer and the University of Notre Dame.
When customers eat at Ben’s Soft Pretzels, they are eating more than mere food. They enjoy an “indescribable experience,” co-owner Brian Krider declares. “It’s not like your typical pretzel. Our pretzels are made fresh all day, served hot and buttery, feature imported German pretzel salt and the fluffy dough melts in your mouth.”
“There are a lot of good snacks out there, but we feel we are the best because our pretzels are always fresh and Amish inspired,” he says. “It is a less dense, lighter-feeling product.”
Based in Goshen, Ind., Ben’s has 53 locations in five states that serve pretzels and pretzel products. Krider co-founded the company in 2008 with co-owners Scott Jones and Ben Miller.
The company’s roots go back to 2002, when Jones and a friend found themselves lost as they traveled through an Amish community in Indiana. But the friend knew Miller, a member of the Amish community who operated a bakery with his wife.
After meeting, Miller and Jones became close friends. Miller had been growing his bakery and eventually bought equipment from a local pretzel company that was closing. Miller thought he was getting a recipe to make pretzels as well, but it turns out that he and his wife and to come up with their own. Miller and his wife spent a week perfecting a new pretzel recipe, which Ben’s still uses today.
“I met Ben through Scott and we started wholesaling some of Ben’s baked goods to some Sam’s Clubs locations and local markets,” Krider recalls, noting that he himself “fell in love” with Ben’s pretzel. “After we started wholesaling and doing things with Ben and his bakery, I went to Scott and said, ‘We have to build a business around this hot, fresh pretzel.’”
Today, Ben’s menu is centered around its Jumbo Soft Pretzel. “The Jumbo Soft Pretzel weighs approximately a half-pound and is our No. 1 seller,” Krider says.
The company also features Buggy Bites, an ideal fit for Ben’s locations in big-box stores such as Walmart and Meijer. “It is the perfect product for families because it fits in the cup holder in shopping carts,” he explains.
Looking for Expertise
Ben’s has recently re-evaluated its process for identifying and recruiting franchisees, Jones says. “We’re looking for multi-unit franchisees to capitalize on our real estate enriched markets,” he explained.
This process also led to the hire of Don Drabik as Ben’s vice president of operations, which will allow Jones and Krider to help the business stay innovative and focus on growth. “It’s a chance for us to stretch a little bit,” Jones says.
Ben’s recently formed a partnership with Gordon Food Service. “They are a very large, international company that distributes our proprietary products,” Krider says.
“The partnership helped to broaden our ability to service all of our franchise partners and opens us up to several new markets,” he continues. “This will support our efforts in growing our available real estate opportunities.”
He also is proud of the company’s relationship with Meijer and Walmart. “[It represents] a very unique and exciting opportunity for us to present our brand in a captured, high-traffic environment,” he states.
The company also has partnered with colleges, including the University of Wisconsin and the University of Notre Dame, where it does concessions. “We’ll make thousands of fresh pretzels at games,” Krider says.
A Fun Place
Vice President of Marketing Jillian Koeneman praises Ben’s culture. “It is the most exciting culture that I’ve ever been a part of,” she says, crediting it to Jones and Krider.
“When you come to work, it doesn’t feel like work,” Koeneman continues. “We’re all part of a family and it’s [the most fun] place I’ve ever worked at.”
Krider and Jones have big plans for Ben’s that include recruiting new franchise partners, as well as deepening its relationships with current ones. “We have 20 new stores already committed to in 2016. We are seeking multi-unit franchisees who are interested in 10 to 20 stores,” Jones said. “About 50 to 60 percent of our business is booked for this year,” he adds, noting that Ben’s is already planning for next year as well. “We’re getting real estate requests for stores to be built in 2017.”
Ben’s Soft Pretzels
2015 sales: $7.9 million+
Headquarters: Goshen, Ind.
Employees: 300+ Specialty: Pretzel products
Brian Krider, co-owner: “There are a lot of good snacks out there, but we feel we are the best because our pretzels are always fresh and Amish inspired.”