Ben’s Soft Pretzels rapidly grows from a market kiosk to 60 locations.
by Barbara Eastman
For most people, getting lost is never a good thing. But for Scott Jones, one of the founders of Ben’s Soft Pretzels, the Goshen-based business that has been recognized as the fastest growing pretzel franchise in the United States, getting lost was fortuitous. He recalls the day that changed his life (and those of his partners, Ben Miller and Brian Krider), when he and an associate were making home ministry visitations.
That fateful day occurred nearly 14 years ago. When they found themselves lost on a country road, Jones’ passenger thought he recognized the road on which his friend Ben Miller lived with his wife, Elizabeth. He told Jones that if they stopped by their house, at a minimum, they’d get directions to their next stop, and if they were really lucky, they’d get cookies. He explained to Jones that the Millers were Amish bakers and always had something delicious going into or coming out of the oven.
In addition to great cookies, Jones really enjoyed the Millers’ company and found that he and Ben had a lot in common. They agreed that they would meet again to go hunting or fishing and Jones felt, on that day, he had gained a friend. Little did he know that he had also met his future business partner.
The Millers had a booth at the South Bend farmers market where they sold their baked goods. When an adjacent booth tenant wanted to sell his pretzel stand, Ben bought it and thought he was buying a business. It turns out that he was buying only equipment–no name, no recipe, and only about 30 minutes of instruction on how to use the equipment. The Millers scrambled to come up with a recipe, quickly named the business after Ben and began baking pretzels at the farmers market within a few weeks. The pretzels were an instant hit and the Millers eventually opened a kiosk in Shipshewana.
When Jones tasted them, he knew that the Millers had come up with something special. He was working in the recreational vehicle business and went to a fellow salesman in the industry, Brian Krider, who was also a friend and the two talked to the Millers about wholesaling their baked goods, including the pretzel. Krider was sure they could work together to build a business based on pretzels. Jones was a little bit skeptical, but after doing some research, he developed a business plan and the three agreed to a partnership. In 2008, they opened the first Ben’s Soft Pretzel Bakery in the Concord Mall in Elkhart. Five years later, in 2013, the partners sold their first franchise–on the very day they were legally approved to do so.
In three short years, Ben’s Soft Pretzels has grown to more than 60 franchise locations in malls, athletic venues, and large retailers (Walmart and Meijer). There are an additional 20 franchises either under construction or under contract to be completed this year, and Ben’s Soft Pretzels are now available in eight states: Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Alabama, Kentucky and Ohio.
According to Jones, “Eating one of our pretzels is really an emotional experience. People try them and that first warm salty bite conjures up feelings of well-being that they want their friends to experience. People take pictures of them enjoying one of our pretzels and post them on Facebook or Instagram and the photos generate all kinds of comments. We are getting over 1 million digital impressions a month and over 13,000 interactions. It’s phenomenal and just reinforces the fact that we have an outstanding product. It’s more than a pretzel–it’s a movement!”
The partners are so sure their pretzel is the best one out there that they offer the Perfect Pretzel Promise: If a customer is not 100 percent satisfied they will give them a new pretzel–no questions asked. Ben’s Soft Pretzels is a rapidly growing company with outstanding products made right here in Indiana.
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