After a year as owner of Tell City Pretzels, Brad Smith was asked to autograph a tin full of the famous snack.
“It was right after we opened, and I said to the customer, ‘You realize I’ve only been doing this for a year,’” says Smith. “He said, ‘I want the person who’s making Tell City Pretzels to sign it.’ That’s what people think of them.”
The business has a long, storied past and is famous for its extremely hard pretzel. It began in 1858 when Swiss immigrant Casper Gloor used a secret recipe to create the pretzels in his bakery in Tell City, Indiana. Before he passed away in the early 1900s, Gloor revealed the recipe to his apprentice, Alex Kessler, who took over the bakery.“The Kesslers are the ones who kind of made them famous,” explains Smith, a Jasper, Indiana, native. “They did them up until the late ’50s, early ’60s. Since the ’60s, it’s had numerous owners, and it’s been good and bad, up and down.”
He and his wife, Sandy, began to look into the business after they learned it closed in 2008. The couple investigated the opportunity and after a year, Smith says they “pulled the trigger.”
Since taking over the business in 2009, they have made many updates to the equipment, but Smith and his small staff strive to keep the tradition of the process the same. A few former workers returned to help Smith keep the pretzel true to the original recipe.
“Everybody remembered it,” he says. “Peggy Cardin worked here before, so she had a great grasp on the process.”
Cardin has worked at Tell City Pretzels for a total of nine years, and her husband, Larry Cardin, has been twisting for five years. In the morning, they mix the pretzel dough and place it in an extruder, which cuts the correct amount for one pretzel. Smith and the Cardins hand twist the pretzels and place them on trays. After a dip in a hot water solution and a trip under a salter, the trays are positioned in the first oven.
Tell City Pretzels are baked twice. To check if the pretzels are done, Smith says a pretzel is smacked against a cooling bin to break it. If the knot in the center is baked through, then the pretzels are ready. The batches are bagged with warnings on the packages to “Bite at your own risk!” Some are broken up and seasoned with one of six flavors, from the popular honey mustard to the sweet cinnamon and sugar.
“The people of Tell City take so much pride in them,” says Smith. “It’s not been duplicated. I really think the taste and the unique hardness of it has really made the pretzel popular.”
For more information about Tell City Pretzels, call 812-548-4499 or visit tellcitypretzels.com.