Auntie Anne, Founder of Auntie Anne's Pretzels
The woman responsible for all of those great tasting pretzels sold in shopping malls reveals her secret for success.
by Ashli K. O'Connell
Anne Beiler started selling hand-rolled soft pretzels at a farmer's market in Downingtown, Pa., in 1988. Beiler and her husband, Jonas, both Spirit-filled believers, were trying to raise money to open a non-profit Christian counseling center for the Amish-Mennonite community in which they had both been raised. The dream for the counseling center was fulfilled, as Auntie Anne's Hand-Rolled Soft Pretzels? became an international corporation. In just 13 years, the company has grown from one pretzel store to a projected 709 worldwide locations at the end of 2001. Beiler credits her focus on people and her faith in God for Auntie Anne's success. In part, the company mission statement reads, "We strive to make everything we do pay tribute to God who has entrusted us with this task."
Anne Beiler was baptised in the Holy Spirit at age 21 and then the Spirit of God began directing her life.
Question: Your upbringing has strongly influenced your life. Tell me about it.
Beiler: I grew up in Lancaster County, Pa., on a farm with five brothers and two sisters. My parents were Amish. We had a horse and buggy and no electricity until I was almost 3. When we joined an Amish Mennonite church we could have a black car and electricity and tractors on the farm. Mom and Dad provided for us very well and took us to church every Sunday and taught us obedience to God and the fear of God. Jonas and I were married in the Mennonite church when I was 19 and he was 21. We later received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, which changed our lives tremendously.
Q: Tell me about that experience.
Beiler: I went to a women's Bible study and Jo Ton, a woman from Indonesia, gave her testimony. She said to me, "Have you heard of being filled with the Holy Spirit?" I was 21 when I received the Baptism. My husband, my two sisters, their husbands and then my whole family experienced the infilling of the Holy Spirit. The baptism in the Holy Spirit brought me into a relationship with Christ I had never experienced before.
Q: Tell me about your children.
Beiler: LaWonna and LaVale are 30 and 25 and have made us grandparents. Our middle daughter, Angie, would be 27. Angie's death began a journey that was profound and also very difficult for Jonas and me.
Q: What happened to Angie?
Beiler: She was run over by a farm tractor when she was 19 months old. Had it not been for God's grace and mercy, and the wonderful godly husband who loved me as Christ loves him, I never would have climbed out of depression. I believe Angela was sent to me and my family for many reasons, but a key purpose was for me to become the kind of person that Christ wants me to be. I experienced emotional pain, anguish of soul and deep depression as a result of her death.
Q: Out of your ordeal Jonas wanted to start a counseling center. That's what prompted you to start Auntie Anne's. Did you have immediate success or were there doubts along the way?
Beiler: Our success came only after Jonas added his ingredients to our existing pretzel recipe. The first tray out of the oven was an instant success. People would take a bite of the pretzel, stop, and then look at the pretzel in amazement. Soon we were doing about 1,500 pretzels a day, and the lines were long. An Amish girl, about 18 years old, kept telling us we should go to the Harrisburg market. I went to look at Harrisburg and that's where we started the second store. I had a lot of fear, but God clearly said to me, "Fear not, for I am blessing you."
I said, "OK, Lord, then I'll take You at Your Word." We built nine stores in 1989. From 1990-95 we worked on our corporate infrastructure.
The spiritual aspect of it was so powerful. I didn't have high school or college degrees, so I had to rely on the Word of God. I dug into the Book of Proverbs and we based and built our business on its principles. God encouraged me along the way. I remember in June 1990, I was sitting in a church service on missions Sunday, and I saw myself rolling pretzels and Jesus standing there. It wasn't a vision; it was just a clear impression from the Lord. Jesus spoke to my heart and said, "I want you to use Auntie Anne's as a vehicle for missions." There was a big smile on His face and I understood clearly for the first time God's purpose for Auntie Anne's. I knew I was to put everything I had into Auntie Anne's and Jonas was to do the counseling part. We both understood clearly what our roles were. Along the way, God has totally directed us.
Q: How has Auntie Anne's grown?
Beiler: We had the celebration of our 700th store on November 9. We're in 10 countries and 43 states. England will be our next country. We also sell household kits as a fund-raiser, and we're in the process of using that to support Speed the Light.
Q: What advice would you give to people, women in particular, who want to pursue a business dream?
Beiler: I don't push my way into places simply because I'm a woman. As a woman of God, if I find my place in Christ, I don't have to be pushy and make my own way, but rather, God simply opens doors and I walk through them. It's the same with a man. We make too big a deal out of genders. If you like who you are in God, then everywhere you go you'll be comfortable. When I realized that God called me to this, I was out of my comfort zone. But God helped me to become comfortable with myself first and then He helped me to be comfortable with His call on my life. With God, I can go anywhere and nothing intimidates me.
Q: Do you think that a lot of people never pursue a God-given dream because it's out of their comfort zone?
Beiler: If you stay frozen in fear, you will never accomplish what God wants you to accomplish. There were times when I was emotionally and physically overcome by fear. The Psalmist says, "When I'm afraid, I will trust in You." It's OK to be afraid, but you can't stay there. God is patient with us and He comforts us. Every time I saw a door opened to me, Faith would say, "Go through the door," and as I did I saw that God had gone before me.
Q: How have your core values contributed to your success?
Beiler: They are the reason we're successful, even though they require sacrifice at times. People who came to us - franchisees and employees - in the early days knew nothing about the franchising industry. We knew very little ourselves, but we learned together. During the first 3-5 years we actually bought equipment back and paid off some franchisees' loans. Our accountant told us we shouldn't do that. But I had to sleep at night. If you do what is right and go the second mile for people, God will bless you.
Consistently solid ethics are vital in business. If you say you're going to call someone back today, then do it. If you say you can't do a deal, don't make up stories. Always tell the truth. Simply telling the truth is probably the most impacting principle of Auntie Anne's.
Q: What are your core values in giving and tithing?
Beiler: The Bible says to give with good measure, pressed down, shaken together and overflowing. The measure in which you give is the same measure God uses to bless you. More specifically, I've found that tithing brought about a dimension of giving in my life that started the incredible journey of blessing. For the work of Christ to be completed requires money. Tithing is something everybody can do.
Q: So, when people buy Auntie Anne's pretzels part of that is giving back to God's work?
Beiler: Yes. A percentage of our profits goes to the Family Information Center, which is a center for hurting families. There are many opportunities for us as a company. I believe God has greater things in store, and it's all about the work of the Kingdom.
Q: Tell me about prayer in your company.
Beiler: Every Monday we have prayer time, and we also pray before all of our business meetings.
Q: What brings you joy and satisfaction?
Beiler: Giving and watching people grow - professionally, spiritually and emotionally.
Q: How do you maintain a spirit of humility and stay grounded?
Beiler: I know where I came from, and I keep looking back to remember. I'm a country girl from the farm. I know what it's like to work hard. I've experienced plenty of pain and things in my life that have been unpleasant and I know that God is my Source. I stay focused on Him and He keeps taking me places where I'm forced to depend on Him for my every need - emotionally, spiritually and for wisdom.
Q: Anything else?
Beiler: God has a plan for our lives. We can have confidence in Him that He will take us where He wants us to go. We don't have to become fearful and wonder what God's will is. It will come to us and unfold over time. We need to trust Him for our futures. Each day we must do what is at hand and be faithful in the little things.
"Reprinted by permission of the Pentecostal Evangel."