You normally smell them before you see them, the freshly baked goodness of Auntie Anne’s soft baked pretzels wafting through the air of America’s malls and airports.

Established in 1988 at a stand of a Pennsylvania farmer’s market, how Amish born Anne Beiler’s $6000 venture soon morphed into a global favorite is one of America’s great business stories.

But the Auntie Anne story doesn’t begin with pretzels, a treat dating back to an Italian monk teaching children to pray in 610 A.D. Instead, its origins are rooted in tragedy, pain and a commitment to find redemption in the ruins.

Anne Beiler met Jonas when she was 16 years old. They fell in love, were married when she was 19, and then settled into a peaceful life as newlyweds in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. An auto mechanic with a gift of fixing almost anything, Jonas supported the family with his business and Anne raised their growing little family.

But then came the day that changed every other day.

Angela Joy, their 19-month-old daughter, was tragically killed in a farming accident. Anne’s sister was driving the vehicle that ended the little girl’s life. Trying to put the pieces of their broken life back together, the Beilers soldiered on. There they were in church the next Sunday, singing the hymns – but dying a thousand deaths inside, mired in grief but thinking they had to show their toughness.

As often happens after such devastation, Anne and Jonas’ relationship struggled. There wasn’t anger, but silence filled the spaces where laughter and conversation once resided.

Anne accepted an invitation from her pastor to come for counseling, a development that initially left her grateful for what seemed like his thoughtfulness, compassion and concern.

Only he was no praying pastor, but a preying and predatory one – sexually assaulting Anne in his office. He warned her not to say anything – and then proceeded to continue the abuse for the next six years.

Anne Beiler carried the guilt and the secret, spiraling into even greater depths of depression. Down to just 92 pounds, the future pretzel queen came upon James 5:16 while reading her Bible:

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

 Convicted and emboldened, Anne finally confided in Jonas, telling him the horrible story and sordid details. She’s later find out the pastor had also abused her sisters. The Beilers entered counseling and found healing.

It would be in the aftermath of this tragedy that Anne borrowed $6000 from her father-in-law to buy the stand inside the farmer’s market.

Despite having no business training, and knowing nothing about pretzels, she decided to make a go of it. Anne quickly discovered the pretzels (they were also offering pizza and other foods) they were selling weren’t very good. Jonas stepped in, tweaked the recipe, and soon long lines were forming. They began selling thousands every day.

Auntie Anne’s was born.

“God gave me a pretzel,” she said. “And then He gave me a platform.”

The Beilers began using their profits to expand operations and then poured resources into the creation of the Family Information Center, which provided free counseling for couples and individuals in pain.

Auntie Anne’s was sold back in 2005, but Anne still enjoys stopping by her old stores, introducing herself to workers – and eating the pretzels. She prefers the sweet almond, incidentally. You can learn more about her current work and passions by visiting her website.

“Auntie” Anne Beiler’s journey is a dramatic testimony of how God can use our struggles for His glory.

“It`s always been my desire to work for God,” Anne Beiler has said. “Some people go into the mission field, but Auntie Anne’s [was] my mission.”


Image credit: Anne Beiler