Marshall V. King
Dining A La King
On a fall Saturday, you can get a Ben’s Soft Pretzel at Notre Dame Stadium or Camp Randall Stadium at the University of Wisconsin.
Just about any day of the week, you can get one in Elkhart, Fort Wayne, Kokomo or other Indiana locations.
And if you crave one at home, there’s a kit for you to make your own.
Not bad for a little company that started with one stand at Concord Mall in May 2008.
A lot of restaurant entrepreneurs talk about franchising.
Scott Krider, Scott Jones and Ben Miller are doing it.
You could make all sorts of puns about rising or twisted dough in relation to a growing business. But let’s just skip those and tell the story.
The men didn’t have a food background, but like to eat. They didn’t even have experience with pretzels.
Miller and his wife, Elizabeth, took baked goods from Shipshewana to the South Bend Farmers Market. They had an opportunity to purchase a pretzel stand in the market, but when the deal didn’t go as planned, they were left creating a from-scratch pretzel recipe in their kitchen.
They didn’t base it on other recipes, but made it on their own, he said. They started selling the pretzels in the market in 2004.
And now the proprietary recipe is the one being mixed by the company and used in all its locations and the take-home kits sold online or in stores such as Martin’s Super Markets.
Jones met Miller in 2005 or 2006 when he got lost and stopped at Ben’s bakery. “We became hunting buddies,” Jones said.
When Krider and Jones were looking for a new business opportunity, they created a plan around Ben’s pretzels.
They’re still following the business plan. It’s working, though they believe that a bit of divine intervention has helped.
They considered an initial store at University Park Mall, but ended up at Concord Mall.
“We thought we could sell a lot of pretzels. That mall, for all its shortcomings, has been a godsend for us,” Jones said.
The location has become a destination for pretzel fans. This year, it’s been the best performing store, Krider added. Mall manager Bob Thatcher has been a great friend and promoter, he added.
For the first two years, the men didn’t work full-time in the business. They didn’t pay themselves, but put the money back in the business, they said.
Now, as the business grows, they’re working full-time. Krider runs the limited liability corporation. Jones is in charge of franchising. Miller is operating several franchises.
The first franchise store was established by selling a company store in Michigan City in March. The franchisee wanted to buy the store for two years before the trio was ready to make it happen.
New locations in Fort Wayne and Valparaiso are open. Another in West Lafayette is being built.
The goal was to have five new franchise locations in 2013. They have six and a seventh is in the works. That will bring the total to 13 stores — six corporate owned and seven franchises.
The goal in 2014 is 20 more, Jones said.
Earlier this year, Ben’s Soft Pretzels opened a shop at 1202 W. Pike St., Goshen, in a building that has been an auto dealership, coffee shop and alternative school.
The shop is used to train new franchisees. And the corporate offices are now there with a warehouse in back.
So how are the pretzels?
They’re soft and chewy. They’re a bit sweet. I’m a fan. But I have some more comparing to do.
Goshenites have started debating whether Ben’s is superior to Jo Jo’s now that the city has two pretzel shops. In Elkhart, one could debate how the pretzels from Pumpernickel’s, Iechyd Da and Ben’s compare.
But you’ll see Ben’s keep growing. You’ll likely see it in airports and other places far beyond Elkhart County. Krider, Jones and Miller are growing a business with a good product. It has just enough of a marketing hook thanks to its tie to Miller formerly being Amish.
Pretzels are hot right now, but the product isn’t new. It’s not just a fad. And Ben’s Soft Pretzels will be a player beyond the local market.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat.
Marshall V. King is managing editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at 574-296-5805, firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
If You Go
What: Ben’s Soft Pretzels
Where: 13 stores, including Concord Mall, University Park Mall and 1200 W. Pike St., Goshen.
Fare: Soft pretzels and items made with pretzel dough
On the web:http://benspretzels.com