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Thursday, April 22, 2021

Rick Wetzel and Bill Phelps: The Founders of Wetzel’s Pretzels

Bill Phelps and Rick Wetzel were employed with Nestle when the idea for Wetzel’s Pretzels came to their mind. Both of them were on a business tour while Rick told Bill about a concept borne by his wife. The concept was to manufacture large and soft pretzels for marketing at the mall. That very night, they took their seats at a pub and chalked out their business strategy on a paper towel. 

Rick Wetzel sold off his Harley Davidson motorcycle to aid in accumulating funds for the entrant business venture that they began in their free time. They also introduced a partner to assist in making the cooking formula in Phelps’ Kitchen. At the time to start their first outlet, Wetzel and Phelps convinced the proprietor of a shopping mall to visit their house and taste their conception. The proprietor liked it very much and was ready to let out Wetzel’s Pretzels its first outlet.  

This happened way back in 1994. Around a year after that, luck favored Phelps and Wetzel when they received a golden handshake package from Nestle. Before deciding to franchise in 1996, they launched many more outlets. By 2012, there were around 250 Wetzel’s Pretzels outlets throughout the United States with plans to launch services in India and Japan in the same year. The company netted over $100 million through online sales and in 2011 same-outlet sales were higher by 9%. 

The Success Story of Bill Phelps and Rick Wetzel

Wetzel’s Pretzels is a US-based franchise quick-service restaurant chain that was set up in 1994. The food chain kick-started its operations at South Bay Galleria, Redondo Beach, CA. 

At present, Wetzel’s Pretzels has expanded operations to more than 300 locations across 28 states of the US. Besides, it has an overseas presence in six other nations. 

Wetzel’s Pretzels outlets are present in shopping plazas, amusement parks, outlet hubs, particular discount retail shops, airports, and train stations.  

Phelps and Wetzel went for franchising of their brand in 1996 and they are in co-branding association with leading names like Swensen’s, Juice It Up!, Cold Stone Creamery, and others. 

In 2019, Bill Phelps quit as CEO of Wetzel’s Pretzels following an extensive stint of 25 years. After him, Jennifer Schuler took up the responsibility of the CEO. Bill Phelps stayed as a prominent investor in the company. The headquarters of the fast-food restaurant chain is based in Pasadena, California.

When they launched the first Wetzel’s Pretzels bakehouse in Redondo Beach, CA, way back in 1994, Rick Wetzel and Bill Phelps equipped themselves with a dream and a yummy recipe for delicate pretzel flawlessness. They did not have to wait long for extensive queues of voracious customers, created and drawn by lip-smacking delicate pretzels that were hand-tossed, fresh-baked, and spicily served straight from the kiln. 

As the word-of-mouth about the quality of their golden-on-the-outside pretzels dispersed widely, Wetzel’s Pretzels included extra items to their menu.

At present, Wetzel’s Pretzels has a robust presence in over 340 fresh bakeshops throughout the United States and across the world. It has set up outlets at prime locations such as Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort, California. 

Every bakehouse of Wetzel’s Pretzels survives by the novel imagination of its originators. From the very beginning, they decided that every superior-quality pretzel will be made from fresh bread and baked in-shop unfailingly round the day, to make sure a tasty offering for every customer, no matter when he or she feels satiated for a pretzel.

1994 –1st Outlet

South Bay Galleria, California housed the first outlet of Wetzel’s Pretzels. Both the co-founders, Phelps and Wetzel served fresh hot pretzels to the customers themselves. Hard work did not deter them from taking their new business venture ahead.  

1995- Hollywood

Wetzel’s launched their first outlet in Century City. They were gradually becoming famous.

1996- Wetzel Dogs

Phelps and Wetzel certainly let the dogs out. Both the co-founders acted as trendsetters in the food manufacturing business. Their store was the first one to introduce delicious pretzel-covered hot dogs – yummy!

1996- Go Large or Go Home

Both the co-founders were determined to go large. That is why they kick-started Wetzel’s Pretzels in the Garden State Plaza, one of the leading shopping plazas in the US.

1997- Universal City

Both Rick and Bill believed that they were destined for the big screen. So, they were successful to set up their outlet just beside the big screen at Universal City Walk.

1998 – Global Recognition

No boundary could stop them. Foodies across the world craved pretzels. That is why they brought them to their chirps in Puerto Rico. 

1999 – Staples Center

Looking at other customers frolicking made them hungry as well. So, they thought about a pleasant salted pretzel for them.

2000 – Dodgers Stadium

They served Wetzel dogs and pretzels during a baseball game at the Dodgers Stadium. This was certainly an iconic and savoury moment for them.

2001- Downtown Disney District at Disneyland Resort

They began creating memoirs with fresh hot pretzels at Downtown Disney District in Disneyland Resort.

2001 – 100 Units

They got one step closer to winning global domination…

2003 – Disney Springs at Walt Disney World Resort

They were going big time in 2003! They brought in invitees from across the world to the yummiest pretzel in the globe at their new outlet in Orlando, Disney Springs.

2008 – 200 Units

The ancient Roman Empire had some influence on them.

2014- Dog Bites

Taking pigs in a cover to a higher level was an easy undertaking.

2015 – Pizza Bitz

There was stiff competition all the time. That is why they applied garnishes of delectable pepperoni and fresh blended cheese on their Bitz to remain the market trailblazer.

2016- 300 Units

Wetzel’s Pretzels are now an industry giant.

2016- Fulton Station

The West Coast joined hands with the East Coast via opening their outlet at Fulton Station, NY.

2018 – Crispy Dog Bites

This was a new trick by them to win over new customers.

2018 – Downtown Disney District at Disneyland Resort

They set up their new flagship store. So, the magic moments just got tastier.

Winning investors during its successful journey     

In 2007, Levine Leichtman Capital Partners Inc., a private equity firm based in Los Angeles acquired a huge stake in the firm for an unrevealed sum. Bill Phelps still is a stakeholder of 20%. At the same time, Rick Wetzel enjoys a minor share.

Levine Leichtman Capital Partners sold off the principal stake In October 2016 to CenterOak Partners LLC, a private equity firm located in Dallas, Texas. This happened after maintaining the majority share for nine years.

At a point in time, the Famous Players theatre chain in Canada dished out Wetzel’s Pretzels. However, these were stopped when Cineplex Galaxy took over the film shower in 2005.

Products that made Wetzel’s Pretzels Popular  

1) Foods

The lion’s share of the menu of Wetzel’s Pretzel’s comprises its autonym, pretzels. They are available in various aromas like 

  • Wetzel’s Original (non-buttered or buttered) 
  • Almond crunch 
  • Cinnamon sugar 
  • Jalapeño 
  • Cinnamon glaze 
  • Pepperoni
  • Garlic

Besides, they introduced other pretzel food products like the “Wetzel Dog” which is a pretzel covering a “total-beef” hot dog. Foodies can have it with or even without cheese. Wetzel’s features dog-bites & cheesy-dog-bites as well. Small-sized pretzels known as Wetzel Bitz are also available that are offered with either sugar and cinnamon or salt and butter.

The food chain also marketed dips for the “Wetzel dogs” and pretzels. The present listing of seasonings includes jalapeño cheese, cheese, caramel, pizza sauce, cream cheese, and sweet glaze.

2) Beverages

Wetzel’s Pretzels is also famous for its beverages menu including 

  • Frozen Granita, a cold variety of Italian dessert (pudding).
  • Frozen Lemonade, marketed in a range of flavours.

Bill Phelps & Rick Wetzel suffered a fairly slow growth in the beginning, but the consistent struggle and the patience made them reach their current position. Every milestone added a chapter to their success story. With their every upcoming endeavour, they themselves led the way to be established as brands.



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Kiara Dawson
Kiara Dawson comes from an Engineering background, with a specialization in Information Technology. She has a keen interest and expertise in Web Development, Data Analytics, and Research. She trusts in the process of growth through knowledge and hard work.

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