As a nurse, Sandra Begly-Brown wanted to add a healthier food alternative to the shopping mall offerings she saw, so she combined her interest in nutrition with a love of baking and an entrepreneurial spirit to create Didoughs Twisted Pretzel Company.
“I wanted a healthy product on the market,” Begly-Brown says. “Something I’d feel good about feeding my own family. Our pretzels contain only natural ingredients and no hydrogenated oils.”
Didoughs’ best seller is a traditional butter-and-salt pretzel, which Begly-Brown says outsells the other flavors eight to one. Other pretzel seasonings include sour cream and onion, cinnamon sugar, and garlic. The pretzels are made all day long from scratch in each location.
“The dry ingredients come preblended from a company that has our proprietary recipe,” Begly-Brown says. “They are then mixed and allowed to rise in the store. People can see the whole process.”
Dipping sauces are available for an extra 49 cents and include cream cheese that’s whipped in store, cheddar cheese sauce, jalapeño cheese sauce, marinara, and hot fudge. The most traditional offering, cheddar cheese sauce, leads sales.
She says Didoughs is also compulsive about freshness. Stores keep track of how long each pretzel has been out of the oven and in the warmer with timers placed above each row of pretzels.
“I can look at every product in the warmer and tell how long they’ve been in there,” Begly-Brown says. “If pretzels sit too long, they lose some of their texture, so we have a 30-minute guarantee. When the timer goes off, you might see us throw a whole row away. That’s rare because we understand the traffic flow, but we will throw it away if we have to. The pretzels need to be at a certain standard.”
To make sure those standards are met, Didoughs has a training program where potential pretzel makers have to pass every category on a seven-page checklist. Categories include making dough, dipping the dough in butter, and salting them just right.
“They have to learn step by step,” Begly-Brown says. “Some might be fully trained in four days; one person took two weeks.”
Didoughs’ first location opened in 2003 in Peru, Illinois. The company started franchising in 2006 with a second Illinois location, followed by a Texas location. All three Didoughs are located in malls.
“The original store is tiny, only 200 square feet,” Begly-Brown says. “But we’ll sell 10,000 pretzels a month out of it in a mall that does barely 1 million in foot traffic a month. We only sell pretzels and pretzel-wrapped hotdogs there.”
The other two Didoughs, both franchised locations, are considerably larger—about 1,500 square feet—with an expanded menu that includes pretzels, pretzel-wrapped hot dogs, and a line of pretzel sandwiches that includes Ham and Cheese, Turkey and Cheese, Roast Beef, and a BLT, all on pretzel buns.
“We use the highest-quality branded meat we can get,” Begly-Brown says. “And the homemade buns use the same dough as the pretzels, but we twirl almost like a cinnamon roll.”
Didoughs Twisted Pretzel Company
President: Sandra Begly-Brown
HQ: Morton, Illinois
Year Started: 2003
Annual Sales: Undisclosed
Total Units: 3
Franchise Units: 2
The beverages offered at Didoughs were also selected by Begly-Brown for their wholesomeness. Choices include bottled water and lemonade.
“Everyone seems to like lemonade with pretzels,” she says. “And we have fresh-pressed lemonade. The stuff you buy in a bag or box is made with corn syrup, so we use hand-squeezed lemons and sugar, but we reduce the sugar as much as is palatable.”
Pretzels at Didoughs run $2.29–$2.49. An average ticket for a pretzel and beverage is $3.99. Sandwiches are $4.29, making a meal of a sandwich, chips, and a drink between $6–$6.50.
Begly-Brown says while many shopping malls are taking an economic hit, Didoughs stores are “doing a remarkable job maintaining [business].”
“Right now our time, effort, and money is going toward supporting our franchisees and streamlining operations,” she says. But she does want to grow the chain.
One of Begly-Brown’s goals for Didoughs is to streamline operations enough to be able to offer franchisees an affordable alternative to a full in-line store. The Didoughs Express would be a kiosk with all the capabilities of an in-line store, except for storage.
“Off-site storage works to our advantage, though, because we would be paying much less per square foot to store supplies than we would in our prime location,” Begly-Brown says.
She adds that a kiosk allows foot traffic from all sides and is half the price of an in-line store to build. A Didoughs Express kiosk would be about 12 feet by 12 feet in size, which translates into much lower rent.
“It is also movable, so if the location is doing poorly it can be moved to another location,” Begly-Brown says.
She envisions Didoughs Express locations both inside and outside malls. An outdoor kiosk could even have drive-thru capabilities.
“This concept is ready to go,” Begly-Brown says. “I just need franchisees.”