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Dining A La King: Dough was well spent on Ben's tasty soft pretzels

Scott Jones and Brian Krider think their business will rise as their soft pretzels do. The two men, along with Ben Miller, opened Ben's Soft Pretzels at Concord Mall on May 7 across from where another food stand sold soft pretzels for many years. Using Miller's recipe, they've created a corporation and have plans to replicate and franchise. They'd like to have at least 10 more stores in five years

Posted on Aug. 11, 2008 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on Aug. 11, 2008 at 3:55 p.m.

Scott Jones and Brian Krider think their business will rise as their soft pretzels do.

The two men, along with Ben Miller, opened Ben's Soft Pretzels at Concord Mall on May 7 across from where another food stand sold soft pretzels for many years.

Using Miller's recipe, they've created a corporation and have plans to replicate and franchise. They'd like to have at least 10 more stores in five years.

Miller, an Amish man from Shipshewana, is friends with Krider and Jones, who are salesmen in the recreational vehicle and metal industries, respectively.

Krider and Jones liked Miller's product, which is sold at two stands in Shipshewana and one at the South Bend Farmers Market. They saw an opportunity to make money with the twisted dough.

The result of that is inside the main entrance to the mall, which wooed them to open there.

On July 19, the stand gave away 514 free pretzels and samples of Lazy Dog Root Beer, a kegged root beer brewed by the Mishawaka Brewing Co.

A line formed for the free samples and another with customers wanting to buy more, Krider and Jones said.

Business is strong. When you can sell a bit of yumminess for less than a gallon of gas, people are likely to buy.

"This is almost a recession-proof business," Jones said.

* A pretzel -- not one as big as your head but bigger than your hand -- is $2.59 with tax.

* A handful of pretzel stix, which are simply straight pretzels designed for dipping and not to be confused with the river or band Styx, are less than $3 with tax.

* The pockets built with pretzel dough, meats and cheese are $3.25 for ham and cheese and $3.50 for ham, pepperoni and cheese.

* A 20-ounce root beer is $1.79. It's great root beer.

Just because something's inexpensive doesn't mean it's worth the money. Those breakfast sandwiches next to gas station counters or the taquitos that roll on hot dog machines nearby are proof of that.

But the pretzels, pockets and root beer from Ben's are worth the money. The flavor-to-penny ratio is high.

My wife, who cut her teeth on Pennsylvania soft pretzels and is an expert, praised the Ben's pretzel for its balance of texture, sweetness and saltiness.

I'd put it up against Auntie Anne's, a national chain, or JoJo's in Shipshewana. The pretzel is both less expensive and doughy than what the Pretzel Wagon serves as a concession at local events.

Jones claims that Miller's recipe is a secret only the owners know. That may be, but it's not a complicated recipe. Flour, yeast and water are the basic building blocks. Coatings of baking soda water before baking and a butter substitute after make it a good pretzel.

They offer flavors of garlic, sour cream and onion, and cinnamon sugar, but I'd stick with the original or whole wheat for their beautiful simplicity.

The pockets, combining dough and protein, make a great lunch option when sandwiches seem tired.

And I'll look forward to the frozen pretzels that the trio is testing and will unveil so that eaters can make their product at home.

But even after that happens, I'm glad Elkhart County has its own pretzel-making spot to serve a warm, fresh product. Even after 8:30, a half hour before the mall and stand closes, the pretzels were good. And then they cost just a buck.

Quick Bites

* Little John's, 601 E. Jackson Blvd., Elkhart, closed recently, leaving a number of faithful customers to wonder what happened. The business near downtown Elkhart was a bar and restaurant for many years and had gone nonsmoking and added family dining in recent years. As of late last week, the owners had not returned calls on why they'd closed.

* George and Sandy Fotopoulos took over George's Gyros, 1808 E. Bristol St., Elkhart, which they originally opened in May 1996. They've closed the coffee shop next door for the time being. They're also still operating The Golden Egg Pancake House, 3421 Plaza Court, Elkhart.

* Kelly Jae's Cafe opened in the former Bluegill spot on Main Street in Goshen on Aug. 1. It has a new look and the menu looks promising. Early reports on the food are good too. Chef/owner Kelly Graff was previously at Checkerberry Inn, Citrus and and Indigo on 17.

* Great Wall Chinese Restaurant, 601 N. Nappanee St., Elkhart, isn't closing. The restaurant bearing that name in South Bend and Roseland has been leveled, but the one in Elkhart is celebrating its 23rd anniversary this month.

* Bear Creek Coffee opened last Monday at 524 S. Second St., Elkhart, at the corner of Second and Harrison streets. The coffee shop has baked goods and a lunch menu with soups, sandwiches and salads. Steve Hill and Kris Young are the owners. The shop is open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday and 6 to 2 on Saturday. A grand opening is being planned and the shop could have a drive-through window soon, according to manager Sue Estes.

Editor's note: Scott Jones' name was mispelled in the original version of this story.




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