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TELL CITY - Plucking snakes of dough from a conveyor line and deftly flipping each into the twist familiar to generations of fans, Brad Smith explains why he and his wife, Sandy, bought the Tell City Pretzel Co. last summer.
"I grew up with them," the Jasper resident said. "The main reason is they have a good reputation and brand name all over southern Indiana, not just here in Tell City. It just seemed like a nice opportunity."
"I think they're unique because of the taste," he added. "They're hand-twisted, but I don't know that that makes them better than another pretzel."
Employee Peggy Cardin disagrees.
"I think it's because they're from Tell City and they're hand-twisted," she said of the snack's popularity.
Smith said he's been in groups and asked what people thought.
"Some say they're too hard, some say too salty," he said. "Some say 'oh my God, those are the best-tasting pretzels!' Some say they like them because of the all-natural ingredients."
"I've eaten a lot of pretzels, and I like them because they're saltier than others," Smith said. "Even our low-salt pretzels are saltier than most. And the flavor stands out more. With tiny little (thin) pretzels, you get more of the outside flavor. With these, you get more of the inside crunch."
He only changed two things when he took over the business, he said. He added a packaging machine and turned the conveyor system to face a different direction.
"But as far as the process, we didn't change a thing," he said.
"We ship to just about every state in the country," Smith said. "People can order by the pound or in gift tins online. Some people order them for Christmas to send as gifts. Most buyers grew up in southern Indiana and keep looking for the product."
His wife set up a Facebook page, Smith said, "and I think within 24 hours, she had 300 people signed up as friends. We'd been shut down for 18 months, and the first pretzel hadn't been made."
Within a week, we were up to about 500 people. The word spread through the Internet and it keeps climbing."
The fan count stood at 1,304 late Monday afternoon.
The couple re-opened the pretzel factory at 1315 Washington St. the week of Schweizer Fest and more people coming into the city for that annual celebration knew about the shop's re-opening than residents.
"We didn't advertise locally," Smith said.
Internet sales are good and have a lot of potential, but Smith wants to proceed carefully. The company has been through several owners in recent years, and needs some stability, he said.
Building a reputation outside the counties where Tell City Pretzels are already known will take time.
"It's going to be smart growth," Smith said. "We've got to be able to deliver the product the way people like it. We're not going to just put it into every store. We've got to make sure we make a good pretzel for the people who are used to this pretzel. They take it very personally."
Some people amaze him, he said, with how particular they are about their pretzels.
"Everybody likes their Tell City Pretzel a certain way, it seems," he said.
He'll keep making them the ways people like, he said, and he'll keep commuting from Jasper to do it.
"We're going to stay in Tell City, in case anybody's worried," he said.
Besides visiting the Washington Street factory or retailers selling them, people can get them by visiting www.tellcitypretzel. com.
Orders can also be placed by calling 548-4499 or (877) 334-4499.