Pretzels, Inc., based in Bluffton, Indiana, used Wells Fargo financing to rebound from a devastating manufacturing plant fire.
Pretzels, Inc. is the largest independent pretzel maker in the United States.

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.

July 12, 2017

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.

Steve Huggins and Chip Mann run Pretzels, Inc., a Bluffton, Indiana-based pretzel company. (3 minutes)

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.

Pretzels, Inc., based in Bluffton, Indiana, used Wells Fargo financing to rebound from a devastating manufacturing plant fire.
Bill Mann and Bill Huggins in 1954, years before they founded Pretzels, Inc. in 1979; Their sons, Chip Mann and Steve Huggins, who now run the 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.

Wells Fargo helps pretzel manufacturer recover from fire
Pretzels, Inc., based in Bluffton, Indiana, used Wells Fargo financing to rebound from a devastating manufacturing plant fire.
Pretzel rods, still unbaked, are cut to the correct length before entering ovens to be salted and baked.
Baked pretzel rods fall off the end of the oven line. From there, they move to packaging.
Pretzels, Inc., based in Bluffton, Indiana, used Wells Fargo financing to rebound from a devastating manufacturing plant fire.
Wells Fargo helps pretzel manufacturer recover from fire
Pretzels, Inc., based in Bluffton, Indiana, used Wells Fargo financing to rebound from a devastating manufacturing plant fire.
Pretzels are shaped from raw dough and then move by conveyor into the ovens to be baked.
Photo Credit: Anne Oberlander
Traditionally shaped pretzels are salted just prior to being baked in industrial ovens.
Photo Credit: Anne Oberlander
Pretzel rods, still unbaked, are cut to the correct length before entering ovens to be salted and baked.
Photo Credit: Anne Oberlander
Baked pretzel rods fall off the end of the oven line. From there, they move to packaging.
Photo Credit: Anne Oberlander
Pretzels, Inc. also makes puffed corn snack products.
Photo Credit: Anne Oberlander
Peanut butter pretzels, shown here fresh out of the oven, are made in Plymouth, Indiana.
Photo Credit: Anne Oberlander
Peanut butter pretzels are bagged and prepared for shipping in a state-of-the-art plant.
Photo Credit: Anne Oberlander

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.

Contributors: Matt Wadley
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