Heartbreak to hope: A new twist on peanut butter pretzel production
After a fire destroyed Pretzels, Inc.’s Pennsylvania factory last June, the company worked with Wells Fargo to help finance and purchase a new facility, allowing it to resume production less than a year later.
When Chip Mann, co-chairman of Pretzels, Inc., awoke to a text message on his cell phone at 6 a.m. on Saturday, June 4, 2016, he figured there was an issue to be dealt with at work.
He never could have imagined, however, that the news would be so disastrous. The company’s pretzel factory in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, was on fire.
The building — which had been purchased just a few years earlier to manufacture the company’s popular peanut butter-filled pretzels — would go on to burn to the ground, the unfortunate result of pretzel crumbs igniting in an oven and setting the older factory’s ceiling on fire.
Thankfully no one was hurt, but for Mann and Pretzels Inc.’s other co-chairman, Steve Huggins, the complete loss of their factory complicated both their present-day operations and potential future success.
“It was just heartbreaking,” recalled Mann. “Knowing how much hard work our employees had put into getting the business going — and it was going in a very positive direction. In fact, we had just decided to expand and improve the facility. So it was a devastating time for all of us.”
After dealing with the immediate fallout from such a serious event, the two longtime friends and business partners quickly set out to ensure that Pretzels, Inc. — founded in 1979 by their fathers, Bill Mann and Bill Huggins — would rebound from the fire an even stronger company.
As the search began for a new facility, Mann and Huggins worked with their Wells Fargo banker, Chris Nay, to understand their financing options and to ensure they had the nimbleness to move quickly if and when the right opportunity was identified.
“When the fire happened, Chip and Steve needed a new location and new equipment,” said Nay. “With the Food and Safety Modernization Act, there’s more requirements happening for food companies, and they wanted the highest level of certification at the new plant.”
They decided to focus the search closer to corporate headquarters — and the main pretzel production site — in Bluffton, Indiana, where the company’s roots date back to the 1950s when their fathers first worked at Duchess Pretzels, which was run by Chip Mann’s grandfather.
“Wells Fargo gave us the flexibility, the tools, and the confidence to know that if we found the right building — and the required high-end equipment that we wanted to put into the facility — that we would have the financing and the capital to do it quickly,” said Huggins.
Everything came together when Mann and Huggins found and purchased a location in Plymouth, Indiana. And in April 2017 — just nine months after the fire — they opened a new, state-of-the-art, 45,000-square-foot facility, and the company’s peanut butter-filled pretzel production was back in business.
With the two facilities up and running, Pretzels, Inc. now employs more than 400 people in northeast Indiana and continues the company’s legacy of bringing salty snacks to the masses.