Pretzel Baron pursues a noble agenda
May 9, 2016
by Dan Malovany
Gary Gottenbusch can twist-tie a homemade pretzel almost as fast
as anyone on the planet. A fourth-generation baker who apprenticed in Germany
specializing in the European production of breads, he believes the key to
success involves blending innovation, tradition, technology and training to
produce fine high-quality European breads and pastries.
That tradition served the family well since the 1960s as its Servatii
Pastry Shop and Deli evolved from a single retail bakery to 14 stores today
serving the greater Cincinnati area. However, emerging technology allowed Mr.
Gottenbusch to start a new, separate wholesale business called Pretzel Baron, which
has just begun to take the family’s signature premium Bavarian pretzels across
the nation through foodservice chains, retail in-store bakery/deli and even
through private label and co-manufacturing channels. (See “Birth of a Baron” on
For Mr. Gottenbusch, the emergence of European pretzel-tying
equipment helped fulfill an aspiration that goes back three decades to when he
attended AIB International, where he began marrying baking’s art and science in
“The technology has finally caught up to my fantasy of the 1980s
when I was dreaming about making artisan products on a large, wholesale
system,” he said.
Late last year, Pretzel Baron began ramping up production in a
refurbished, 84,000-sq-ft bakery in northern Cincinnati that houses a new
state-of-the-art soft pretzel line with a current capacity of turning out more
than 60 million products annually.
What makes the line special? While most twisted soft pretzel
technology is proprietary or patented, Pretzel Baron has become one of the
first US companies to import Fritsch automatic twisters from Germany.
“I first saw the technology at iba [the international baking show
in Germany] about 10 years ago and fell in love with it,” he recalled. “I said,
‘I have to get one of those.’ ”
The two twisters can crank out 2- to 6-oz soft pretzels at rates
exceeding 2,000 pieces an hour or much faster than Mr. Gottenbusch — or any
other highly skilled master baker — ever could by hand. In anticipation of
increasing demand for his products, he’s planning to install a third twister in
October that will bolster the line’s capability to 90 million pieces annually.
While Pretzel Baron also makes the ever-popular pretzel sticks,
bites and rolls, its ability to manufacture a high volume of twists establishes
the company’s initial point of differentiation in the marketplace. “Most any
bakery can convert a line to make pretzel sticks, but to make the twisted
products requires these twisters,” he observed. “Because we’re so automated,
it’s even cost-effective for us to produce unique 2-oz twisted pretzels, which
have become more popular at this point than larger pretzels.”
A second differentiator is the family’s Old World formula that has
made the pretzels a Cincinnati favorite at the Servatii retail bakeries as well
as in area supermarkets and at outdoor festivals. And the soft pretzels are
perfect as a snack or appetizer — alone or with butter, mustard or cheese dips
— in restaurants, bars or anywhere beer is sold.
“It’s also a clean-label product — flour, water, yeast, salt, malt
and a little oil,” Mr. Gottenbusch noted. “It’s light and chewy. There are no
preservatives or dough conditioners because we flash-freeze the products before
From an appearance perspective, the slight burst in the pretzels’
belly — or where all of the twists intersect — gives them a more artisan look.
On the larger 6-oz pretzels, the bakery scores its larger pretzels to control
the burst and give them a rustic look.