Benzel Family, Altoona, PA
Adolph Benzel, an immigrant from Germany, arrived in America with an old world recipe for pretzels and a dream of establishing a bakery. Benzel, along with his family, stepped out of a boxcar in Altoona, Blair County, in November 1911. He had worked for other bakers across the state, but decided it was time to put the family recipe to use and start his own pretzel bakery.
He acquired a rather small building of 75 square feet with a bakery oven to start his quest. The family recipe turned this small bakery in which the pretzels were shaped by hand into something he never imagined.
The bakery evolved into one of the most modern pretzel bakeries in the world, a 180,000-square-foot bakery that produces up to 50 million pretzels a day in different shapes and varieties: pretzel thins, pennysticks, mini pretzels, waffle pretzels, nuggets, braided pretzels, sourdough hard pretzels, penny grahams, rods, nibblers, thick sticks, and thin sticks.
Each of these products has its own recipe. Benzel's is one of the few bakeries utilizing the philosophy of different recipes for different products. Most bakeries formulate a variety of shapes from the same basic recipe. "Our sticks taste different from our minis, our minis taste different from our thins," according to the current owner, Ann Benzel.
This range of products and the means of transporting them have changed significantly in the 100 years since Adolph began making pretzels. In Adolph's time, a horse and wagon was followed by a motorized vehicle. Today, with global sales, the company utilizes a much more sophisticated means of transporting products which could include trucks, planes, and ships.
Around 1975, Benzel's attracted visitors with a self-guided factory tour which allowed visitors to get up close and personal with the pretzel making process. Over 300 scheduled bus tours every year would stop by to take the tour and visit the outlet store that is connected to the bakery.
Benzel's keeps up to date with new products as well. Recently, they have touched on new products such as oat bran and soy pretzels. "Soy is really coming into play, and oat bran never really lost it," Ann Benzel said in an interview. Organic products are also currently very popular.
One of the characteristics that sets Benzel's apart from other businesses is that it is still family owned. While continuing the tradition, Ann enjoys being a part of a small company with big company aspirations.
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