January 12, 2008

The story(ies) behind Auntie Anne's Pretzels

(Twist and love: Anne Beiler and her husband, Jonas, shown in their Gap, Pennsylvania, home, made millions with the Auntie Anne’s Pretzels chain. Anne’s forthcoming book, Twist of Faith, reveals the religious and marital challenges she’s faced in her life. --PHOTOGRAPHED BY KATHERINE FREY FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

CRIKEY! The story was just too horrendous to be true.

I was surfing the Internet last Sunday, just reading blogs and news stories and came across a piece on Auntie Anne, the woman behind those yummy cinnamon sugar pretzels. (Say it with me, people...mmmm!)

First of all, I didn’t even know that Auntie Anne was actually a real person (real name: Anne Beiler) until I read the piece on Jezebel.com—don’t even ask me how I got to that site!— and The Washington Post. All I knew was the company made good pretzels. Those treats are always a good pick me-upper for those long days when you absolutely don’t have any time to relax and sit down for a nice long hot meal in a restaurant. Auntie Anne’s pretzels are hot, fast and filling. Gee, I could be their spokesperson!

Second, did anyone know that Auntie Anne was Amish? Yup, she was a Mennonite, and grew up in a farm in—get this—a town called Gap, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where she put on a tidy bonnet, wore dresses that covered all extremities, and cooked for the family the way most Amish women still do today. Her folks, though, were more liberal and enjoyed electricity, and drove a car, instead of the usual horse-drawn buggy.

She met her future husband, Jonas, at a youth group, married him when she was 19 (he, 21), and started a family. But tragedy struck soon after. Their daughter Angela was run over by a farm tractor Auntie Anne’s sister was driving. It plunged the couple in the pit of dark emptiness and despair and didn’t talk about it for seven years. Each thought the other was doing just fine as they quietly let their own depression eat them up.

Feeling suicidal, she had turned to their pastor for help. Then she and Jonas went to a marriage counselor, and soon after the couple recovered enough to help other Amish couples deal with family and relationship issues. One must underscore the fact that discussing relationships and “getting in touch” with one’s feelings are not part of the cultural upbringing of this religious group. Most Amish folk are brought up to just bear whatever burden they believe has been put on their shoulders.

Unknown to her husband, Auntie Anne had fallen under the wiles of their pastor. “...he seduced me,” she told the Post in an interview to publicize her forthcoming book Twist of Faith. “I was a grieving 26-year-old mother who had just lost her child, with no reason to believe I couldn’t trust a pastor, and I felt like I had lost my husband, too, because we couldn’t connect anymore. That first day as I left his office, he told me, ‘Jonas cannot meet your needs, but I know I can.’” What a bastard!

Auntie Anne finally confessed about the pastor to her husband when allegations of sexual misconduct and corruption rocked their pastor’s church. She, as well as her sisters, had been carrying on with the pastor separately for six years. The Post story doesn’t mention who this minister was but if you remember the 1980s when televangelism was booming, these guys were all over the place. They could bring whole congregations to their feet, delirious with charged emotions just by the way they preached. (Yes, I will google him later.)

What eventually saved her—and her marriage—was her husband’s strength and belief in her. According to Auntie Anne, he loved her enough to allow a separation if she wanted to, and to let the kids go with her if she so wanted. “He thought I was a good enough mom to take the kids with me,” she tells the Post. Eventually, the minister was dismissed after the church’s administration investigated the couple’s complaint against him. As it turns out, even one of Auntie Anne’s daughters had been molested by the same man of cloth when she was a pre-teen. Ugh!

Amid all that, Auntie Anne built her pretzel empire. She virtually had no capital and a mere ninth-grade education, yet she was confident enough to join those farmers’ fairs typical in their region. A botched delivery of ingredients prompted Jonas to add an ingredient which helped create the awesome pretzel recipe still used today. Now there is an Auntie Anne’s in virtually all corners of the globe catering even to local palate of its customers (adobo pretzel anyone?). While she eventually sold the pretzel company to her cousin, Auntie Anne’s story about how she created the business is such an inspiration and can help push the imagination and creativity of our would-be entrepreneurs.

But the real story, I suppose, is that despite all the tribulations she and her husband went through, they are still together to this day, now celebrating 39 years of marriage. “Anne and I never broke up,” he tells the Post with obvious pride. “I tell couples, ‘Look, staying together is much bigger than you think.’ I’m going to keep doing the right thing whether I feel like it or not. I felt like walking out on my marriage many times. I’ve thought about affairs. I’ve thought about suicide.”

And, of course, “it was never about the pretzels,” adds Auntie Anne.

The Beilers’ story as a couple is riveting as it is a testament to the virtue of honesty and the power of forgiveness. Many spouses today have difficulty in admitting to one’s adultery—even when already caught—afraid to rock an already unsteady boat their marriage is riding on. But the couple counsels that not only is forgiveness from the aggrieved spouse needed, but the one who cheated must also learn to forgive himself/herself as well.

Their story is also about how anyone can rise and recover from the large curveballs thrown at them by this thing called life. It’s true what they say, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” I can’t wait to read Auntie Anne’s book.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. Photos from BusinessMirror and Auntie Anne's UK franchise site.)


bipolar_girl said...

What an inspirational story! Happy New Year! Take care

Stella Arnaldo said...

Happy New Year too!

jesang said...

hey, i got the chance to meet them in a leadership church here in Nairobi, Kenya. a hapy couple they are... they continue to inspire me. God bless them