After purchasing Pretzelmaker as part of an approximately $445 million package of chains two years ago, FAT Brands recently brainstormed a new and consistent look for the concept.
Based on feedback from franchise partners and research conducted by the marketing team, the brand switched to brighter, livlier colors and a new tagline, “Bite-Sized Fun. Full-Sized Flavor,” which puts an emphasis on the chain’s classic Pretzel Bites. The website—in partnership with design agency 3 Owl—was updated with the new brand identity as well as all of the social media channels. In-store updates like packaging, uniforms, and remodels will start rolling out soon. FAT Brands hopes to complete all store upgrades by the end of 2024 or early 2025.
“We’ve got these really tiny, small, little items and so we wanted to try and figure out how to really highlight that they’re much more than just quick, little, little shareable treats. And there’s a lot of punch packed in there. For us, that was a really fun tent pole to work around for the rest of the assets that you’ll see throughout the brand uplift and rebranding effort. We really wanted to lean into making everything feel doughy and fun. I think the product offer itself lends to just good times, cooking, and whatnot.”
“We feel pretty strong and confident about the brand being able to stand on itself,” FAT Brands chief brand officer Mason Wiederhorn says. “I think a lot of our customers that are a long-time Pretzelmaker fans know about our smoothie lines, know about our lemonade offering as well.”
The new branding is also serving as a growth engine. Pretzelmaker—which is making an effort to expand outside of mall-based and nontraditional locations—is planning to scale a new double drive-thru prototype that highlights the enhanced decor and maximizes its digital capabilities. The base design is 1,100 square feet, but there are different formats available to franchisees based on geographies. For instance, warmer weather states could have a walk-up window while colder markets will have a small vestibule area to wait for their order.
Two are in development and will open sometime during the latter half of 2024.
“All in all, it’s just focused on throughput as far as the development model goes,” Wiederhorn says. “But we’re trying to present it—and I think in the renderings you can see that—in a really fun and accessible way for everybody.”
Pretzelmaker first entered the drive-thru game this year with a location in Mason City, Iowa. This unit was made under the chain’s Fresh Twist branding, which debuted in 2018 with additional meal options. In addition to Pretzel Bites, the Mason City shop offers flatbread pizzas, breakfast sandwiches, and coffee. Another drive-thru location followed in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, this time an endcap.
Wiederhorn says both stores are performing “really well” and that they spurred interest from existing franchisees and operators across FAT Brands, a company that owns more than 15 quick-service and casual-dining franchised concepts. Although Pretzelmaker is known for snacking occasions in nontraditional areas, the company believes the drive-thru format works because of the menu’s portability and diversity.
“We feel pretty strong and confident about the brand being able to stand on itself,” Wiederhorn says. “I think a lot of our customers that are a long-time Pretzelmaker fans know about our smoothie lines, know about our lemonade offering as well. And so we do have a really strong beverage component to the brand and I think that lends itself to drive-thru and then just with an increased focus on the lunch and breakfast dayparts, we feel like we’re going to be able to capitalize on that and we’re seeing that success out of the current two franchise drive-thru units that are open and operating. We’ve got a really broad and strong menu and I think it lends itself to drive-thru. So It’s really been an eyeopening and exciting experience.”
Pretzelmaker has 153 restaurants systemwide, all franchised. That’s down from 182 restaurants at the start of 2020. The chain earned about $68.8 million in systemwide sales last year and around $480,000 in AUV. The brand joined the FAT Brands family in 2021 as part of Global Franchise Group, which also operated Roundtable Pizza, Hot Dog on a Stick, Great American Cookies, and Marble Slab Creamery. The company was founded in 1991 by Jeffery Trip. The chain was united under common ownership with Pretzel Time in 1998 and consolidated in 2008 to become the new Pretzelmaker.
Fellow pretzel chain Auntie Anne’s made headlines in 2021 when it opened its first drive-thru alongside sister concept Jamba. Wiederhorn envisions Pretzelmaker similarly using the power of FAT Brands by potentially pairing Pretzelmaker with Great American Cookies or Marble Slab Creamery in a drive-thru setting. But no plans have been solidified yet.
“We do have quite a few Pretzelmaker/Great American Cookies locations and a few Pretzelmaker/Marble Slab Creamery locations,” Wiederhorn says. So the pairing of those I think work really well, especially looking at a drive-thru format. ” … We’ve seen that perform really well in some of the traditional locations in line and food courts as well. We think that there’s definitely something there.”
The emphasis on drive-thru won’t take away from Pretzelmaker’s focus on malls, Wiedrhorn says. He adds that traffic is returning to these types of locations, and overall figures agree with his assessment. Physical retail saw more store openings than closures in 2022 for the first time since 2016 and mall sales increased 11 percent to nearly $819 billion, according to Coresight Research. Additionally, traffic at top-tier malls was up 12 percent on average in 2022 compared to 2019. Traffic at non-top-tier malls grew 10 percent.
“I think realistically we’re going to be probably split between mall and off-mall formats going forward for quite some time, with equal focus on both areas. And then we’ll just continue our focus on getting into some nontraditional formats as well,” Wiederhorn says. “I think the brand is just really flexible and scalable.”