Last August Brock Coffman lost his job. Tired of the corporate world Brock decided to exit the rat race and recreate the pretzels he had enjoyed in Bavaria — in Denver. He began perfecting recipes in September. In December his pretzels were in his first Denver area brewery. Here is a bit of his story.
Denver is a big craft beer town. A lot of the small craft breweries only offer peanuts or popcorn. Peanuts and popcorn don’t pair well with beer. Popcorn can give the beer a Diacetyl or butter flavor taste which most beer aficionados consider a flaw in the brew. With peanuts there are also issues with allergies and at some point it gets expensive to offer these free snacks. With pretzels I thought I could make some money and could package them in a way where the breweries could easily handle and heat them. It is what bars do in Bavaria. I developed a recipe and by mid-December I had one brewery signed on to sell them to their thirsty patrons.
Were you making pretzels prior to August?
I never had a baking background. I always liked cooking and I love bread. A carb-free diet was never for me. After returning from Germany and Austria and having authentic traditional pretzels I thought, ‘I have to find a way to do this. It couldn’t be that hard.’ I tried to duplicate the Bavarian process. I home brew beer so I made pretzels for myself, took them to get togethers with friends and got really good feedback. I had thought of pursuing this as a business and in September I just decided to try it and see what I could make of it.
What were your fears in deciding to do this?
I am very conservative with my money. I didn’t know if I wanted to leave the corporate world and the steady paycheck, but after the paychecks stopped coming in I no longer had that cushion. I had enough of my own seed money to float myself for a year. I decided to try it instead of looking back and saying, ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda.’ I was reluctant at first. I think a lot of people psyche themselves out in starting their own business and don’t go through with it. People fear failure as I did.
How is the stress of owning your business different than the stress of a corporate job?
Obviously in the corporate world there is a continuous paycheck and benefits. Now I have to worry about that. Thank God I have a lovely wife and I am on her healthcare plan. Also, in the corporate world there is structure. When I first started off with pretzels, I was like, ‘Where do I start?’ In the beginning I was doing a lot of baking and tasting.
What is the process of trying to refine the recipe?
It was a matter of jumping online and looking at recipes and cooking techniques. It was going through that process and figuring out the right flours and other different ingredients. I finally found a flour that I liked that’s made locally in Colorado. I am trying to keep it as local as possible.
How would you describe your pretzels?
They are closest things I have tasted to true Bavarian pretzels. They are nice a brown with a good outer crust that is chewy and soft with tasty bread inside. They have a really a good flavor. I am still impressed by my recipe. I am only doing salt pretzels right now. I really tried to stay away from the mall pretzels where they put all sorts of the toppings on them. I didn’t want to kill the taste of the craft beer with various pretzel toppings. I am really trying to compliment the beer and what breweries are doing. Pretzels keep the customers thirsty, but my soft pretzels are more substantial than popcorn, peanuts or potatoes chips.
How many employees do you have?
Just one, me. It is me and only me. I am my own best employee at this point.
What is the cost for a pretzel in a bar?
Three bucks. I priced it so it’s cheaper than a pint of beer
Do you have any other challenges in owning your own business?
Money is always a factor. Also, I have run into some competition that was threatening me with talking to his attorney over domains and names and I was like, ‘Really, lawyers over pretzels?’ I have worked around it. It was an empty threat and I moved on.
How do you market yourself?
The most effective way is knocking on doors. I have tried email and phone calls, but I think walking in with pretzels in hand and asking for a trial works best. So far my success is mostly word of mouth. I don’t do a lot of social media and my website is an online business card that lists the breweries I work with.
I have packaged them in a way that makes them easy for the breweries to handle and heat. I have found a checkered blue and white parchment paper that looks like the Bavarian flag. I double wrap it and put a sticker on it with my logo. When a customer wants one, the brewery can put the entire thing in a toaster oven. Parchment paper burns at a higher temperature than normal paper, so you can put them in the oven and breweries never have to actually touch it.
Right now a brewery’s license does not allow them to serve or produce food so with the way my pretzels are made and packaged they are no different than a bag of potato chips. The salt is all contained in the paper, so the brewery does not have to clean up a lot.
It is one of those things where it just kind of hit me.
What have you learned about owning your own business in this process?
I think the worst thing is what is between our own ears. I think people are afraid of failing and succeeding. There are a lot of unknowns about starting your own business.
The other thing is the importance of controlling cost. You need to bring in money before you start spending it. You need to keep your eyes open on ways to save money. You will see a lot more income coming in by doing that. It is stepping back and really looking at your expenses and deciding if you really need them all.
What advice do you have for people who want to start their own business?
Do it. Think small and keep it simple. Think about who you are selling to. Keep your overhead small. Maybe not everybody needs a store front. Maybe not everyone needs the flashy car for delivery. Start with what you have and then start planning for something bigger.
I still think a creating a business plan is a smart process. It doesn’t need to be dozens of pages long it just puts your ideas, thoughts and a process on paper.
Do you think there are any misconceptions about owning your own business?
I think people think that as your own boss you can come and go as you please, but the reality is any time you have time you should be out marketing yourself. It is hard to get up and motivate yourself sometimes and again that goes back to what is going on between your ears. But you should be working on it and thinking about it seven days a week. It is the only way to make it succeed. Until you can get to the point of hiring people it all falls back on you.
How are the rewards different from between the corporate world and owning your own business?
In the corporate world you work and work and then at the end of the day you get a call and your boss tells you, ‘Thanks for everything. We are laying you off or closing shop.’ I wanted to try and do something for myself.
I did a Yelp event the other day and a gal came up and told me that she had been craving a soft pretzel from Philly or New York. When she tried one of my pretzel she said, ‘This is perfect. This is exactly what I was looking for.’ I have been hearing that quite a bit. I am doing something basic. I am making dough into a pretzel. It is something authentic that works well with beer. It is a niche, small as it may be, all it is, is a niche. I am a local small baker that is just trying to get something out there that people enjoy.
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