Pretzel Baron pursues a noble agenda

by Dan Malovany
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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 Page xxx.)

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 his mind.

“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 packaging them.”

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.

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