Squeezed between Moe’s Coffee Shop and the Shop N Go minimart on hardscrabble Frankford Avenue, in the heart of working-class Northeast Philadelphia, lies the Philly Pretzel Factory. With its algae-green sign bolted to the building’s khaki stucco exterior, it looks more like a takeout joint than the headquarters of a $40 million empire. The truth is, it’s both.
At eight o’clock on a brisk Friday morning, neighborhood folks — in all shades and shapes, from two burly guys in courier uniforms to a bottle blonde impatiently jingling her keys — stand eight deep inside the Factory. The crowd is starting to spill out of the building, while customers near the counter watch like kids peering into the oven window, urging on a batch of Christmas cookies.
Once the pride of a few family bakeries in gritty South Philadelphia, soft pretzels have always been big business in the city. But over the past decade, with four pretzel companies supporting more than 160 freestanding retail stores that tempt the taste buds and test the waistlines of locals addicted to the doughy treats, the Philly area market has become saturated, and the Big Four are hoping to turn their soft pretzels from a regional obsession into a national one.
Each of the Big Four dismisses the others’ product and plans for growth, but they all believe that giant vendors like J&J Snack Foods (JJSF) — maker of the ubiquitous SuperPretzel — and Auntie Anne’s have bamboozled the pretzel-eating public into accepting inferior pretzels.
“Philadelphians know the difference between a good pretzel and a horrible pretzel,” says Vince Marinelli, a former electrician who heads A Taste of Philly, which operates 18 stand-alone pretzel stores, mainly in the Philly burbs. “Outside this area they don’t know the difference. So there’s some work to be done educating people.”
Continue Reading: “Pretzel Wars”
Photo by sun-sentinel.