Money School

Entrepreneur Friday: Kim & Scott’s Gourmet Pretzels

Posted by Jean

Smore picWHO: Kim & Scott Holstein

WHAT: Kim & Scott’s Gourmet Pretzels

WHERE: Chicago

WHEN: 1995

HOW: Kim Holstein was frustrated by her day job, but after reading about a woman who made and sold soft pretzels, she had an idea. “After reading that article, I couldn’t get pretzels out of my mind,” says Holstein. After completing graduate school and meeting her future husband Scott (who also had a passion for pretzels), the two began to brainstorm a business in her Lincoln Park apartment. To allow their business to succeed, they knew they needed to add a new twist to the pretzel. “[We wanted] to transform the soft pretzel from a snack item to an anytime meal for people on the go.”

With a credit limit of $25,000 and money they raised from family and friends, the two started their pretzel business. Kim still worked her advertising job by day, while Scott went to cafes and coffee shops with their pretzels to test their market. Health conscious, the pair knew that the fact they made their pretzels from scratch would be a big selling point – but years later, their pretzels are made in a nut-free facility free of trans-fats, preservatives, and hydrogenated oils, and a great serving of whole Grilled Cheese-Horizontalgrains to boot – allowing them to hold their own in a large market of new healthy, on-the-go options. Their full-meal pretzel varieties such as pizza, cheddar jalapeño, and spinach feta, have taken the pretzel from just a snack to a meal option.

Despite struggles in getting the business launched –and points where their sales were small — the two remained positive. “It’s hard to build something from nothing,” says Scott Holstein. “We have had to be very creative to find ways to build awareness.” This philosophy has gained them a great deal of success – today, the company has annual sales of over $10 million, profits are at 10% and growing, and their 12 pretzel varieties line the shelves of freezers at Whole Foods, Target, and Costco, as well as colleges, cafeterias, airports, and more. Concerned also about helping those in need, the pair regularly donates money to schools, medical foundations, and environmental support initiatives. They also plan to take their business overseas, helping the underprivileged in Africa learn to launch their own bakeries to provide income for their families.

kids twistingLater this month, Kim & Scott will open their first pretzel café in Chicago. “The inspired café will offer a deliciously twisted menu bursting with flavorful sandwiches, salads, soups and smoothies,” says Kim, “and guests can also twist their own pretzel, top it, and we bake it!” The principle of starting small and allowing their business to grow over time has allowed them to maintain its success. “Our greatest achievement is running a business with a purpose,” says Kim.

THEIR ADVICE: “Find a mentor to guide and support you, seek out help from local business, and write a business plan,” says Scott. “Do what you love every day, acknowledge your weaknesses, don’t take no for an answer, and stay positive – ‘We have a million dollar business’ was our pep talk, even when we had less than $100,000 in sales.”