Not many people know what they want to do from a young age, but I was fortunate to start my entrepreneurial journey at age 11, selling pretzels on Roosevelt Boulevard in Philadelphia. Being from Philly, you’re born loving pretzels, and I grew up eating and selling them. A lot of people don’t know this, but the shape of a Philly pretzel is unlike your typical Bavarian style; instead, it’s a figure-eight-shape that’s intended to be sold in bulk at a wholesale price. This is exactly what all the original pretzel bakeries in Philadelphia did. They opened up early in the morning to produce thousands of pretzels. Sold them across all their wholesale accounts and closed shop for the day by 9 a.m.

It wasn’t until I graduated college that I realized my true love for pretzels and the desire to be my own boss. My job as a stockbroker at the time wasn’t fulfilling, and I often spent my days building this pretzel concept in my head. I eventually partnered with my friend and college roommate, Len Lehman, to open the original Philly Pretzel Factory location in the Mayfair section of Philadelphia in May of 1998. We thought we’d be able to close at 9 a.m. that first day, but the line continued to wrap around the block and we didn’t leave until 5 p.m. There were nights we slept on bags of flour for an hour-or-two before prepping product for the next day. Those memories will always be celebrated because it got us to the place we are now.

Today, we have 80 franchised locations in Pennsylvania, with 20-plus stores in Philly, and 140-plus nationwide. 

In my eyes, bringing a dozen donuts to the office is a thing of the past. In all our stores, we’ll see people in every industry regularly buying pretzels and bringing them to their clients, to the classroom, to the office meeting, etc. Pretzels are truly embedded in this region. As we continue to grow, it is our goal to enter new states and introduce more people to Philly pretzels.

What was your very first job? 

Selling pretzels on the street corners in Philadelphia at age 11.

What’s your favorite cuisine or coffee choice?

Pretzels, obviously. I’ve been on a sushi-kick lately. I’m not sure I want to be honest about how many times a week I eat sushi. Overall, I mostly favor savory cuisine over anything sweet. As I get older, I drink less caffeine and typically stick to a small black coffee from Dunkin.

Who inspires you as a leader?

Steve Nuel—we call him the “Pretzel King”—he truly transformed the pretzel industry and was responsible for giving me my first job. He invested so much of his time in me, teaching me the business; you could tell he really wanted me to succeed. Some of his business tactics are still being passed down to new franchisees every day.

What’s the best piece of advice that other restaurant executives should hear?

Your employees are your key to evolving. Use their feedback and expertise to improve. Also, just because we’ve always done something a certain way, doesn’t mean we have to keep doing things that way. 

What are some of your interests outside of work?

Spending time with my kids. I’m a huge movie-buff; I’ll often go to the movies by myself. I love taking spontaneous trips and not telling anyone about them. I love spending time at the beach. There’s something about being outside, in the sun, that just makes you feel better. Being healthy has always been a huge focus for me, but when I got sick with COVID-19 in March of 2020, I felt I really needed to make my health a priority. Being in a coma for weeks really puts things in perspective. 

Business Advice, Fast Casual, Fast Food, Restaurant Operations, Start to Finish: What Inspires Execs, Story, Philly Pretzel Factory