What You Didn't Know About Auntie Anne's Pretzels

Who among us has not gravitated toward the irresistible smell of freshly baked Auntie Anne's pretzels emanating from the the food court of the local shopping mall? In high school, these warm, soft, impossibly buttery twists of doughy goodness were my kryptonite. Like other suburban kids, I spent my free time walking in circles around the mall. And that's where I developed my lifelong weakness for Auntie Anne's Pretzels. Now as an adult, I still can't resist buying one when I'm at an airport. Their alluring aroma brings to the surface all my childhood nostalgia.

While we all know the distinctive buttery scent of Auntie Anne's Pretzels, you might not realize all the other fascinating facts about this well-known chain and its tough-as-nails founder. Read on to discover some lesser-known facts about your favorite rolled pretzels.

Auntie Anne is a real person

Anne Beiler — better known as Auntie Anne — began selling pretzels at a local farmer's market as a way to raise funds for a community counseling center she and her husband, Jonas, founded after losing their 19-month-old daughter in a farming accident. Growing up in the Amish country of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Beiler's family moved to a less restrictive Mennonite church when she was a young girl. Despite her humble beginnings and tragic past, Beiler would later go on to become the founder of the ubiquitous pretzel chain we all know as Auntie Anne's Pretzels.

Auntie Anne's Pretzels began with $6,000 borrowed money

Anne Beiler bought a stand at a farmer's market in Pennsylvania in 1988 and started her multimillion-dollar pretzel empire with a mere $6,000 of investment money. Seeing the financial possibilities of the location, Anne was determined to buy it. Since she and her husband didn't have the money upfront, they had to get a loan from his parents to secure the farmer's market space that would eventually spawn the famous rolled pretzel chain.

The famous dough recipe was an accidental invention

In 2008, Anne Beiler revealed to The Washington Post that the recipe for her popular pretzels was an accident. Always the baker, she learned how to make and bake pretzels to sell locally. When the wrong ingredients arrived one week, Beiler and her husband were forced to make do with what they had, eventually leading them to the magical recipe that has made her a household name. Beiler goes on to say that it was her husband who thought to add the secret ingredient that ultimately elevated the pretzels' deliciousness.

The pretzels are made on site

According to Auntie Anne's, all the pretzels are made, rolled, and baked on site to ensure freshness. When you're at Auntie Anne's, you can watch the staff roll, twist, brush, and bake your dough on the spot. It's no wonder these delectable pretzels are so addictive.

You can find Auntie Anne's shops almost anywhere you go

You can enjoy Auntie Anne's pretzels just about anywhere you go. From shopping malls and college campuses to airports and train stations, there are more than 400 shops internationally, including the latest franchise locations in Thailand, Brunei, and Turkey. With other shops in far-reaching places like Colombia, China, and New Zealand already in place, there's no indication of Auntie Anne slowing down anytime soon. According to its corporate website, the chain is still accepting applications for international franchising.

Shaquille O'Neal owns Auntie Anne's Pretzels franchises

While most of us know him as a superstar professional basketball player, what you may not realize is that Shaquille O'Neal is also a thriving entrepreneur with investments in many different areas of business, including pretzels. In addition to large investments in industries as varied as tech, fitness, and real estate, Shaq also owns 17 Auntie Anne's Pretzels franchises. Hard to blame the big guy for liking those pretzels.

Auntie Anne's introduction of a whole grain pretzel didn't fare well

In 2013, Auntie Anne's introduced a heart-healthy whole grain product, the honey whole grain pretzel. With more fiber and fewer calories, the pretzel was meant to appeal to those seeking a more nutritious alternative to the original pretzel. Well, the new whole grain version didn't fare too well with customers, as it has since been taken off the menu. So much for healthier options.

The fastest time for rolling an Auntie Anne pretzel was 3.42 seconds

If you follow Auntie Anne's Twitter feed, you might already know about the new record time for rolling a pretzel. In an annual pretzel-rolling competition hosted by Auntie Anne's, winner Jackie O'Neal rolled an Auntie Anne pretzel in just 3.42 seconds. Her reward? A cool $1,000. Not too shabby!

Auntie Anne's Pretzels offers up different flavors in different parts of the world

Auntie Anne caters to the international crowd by offering special flavors only available in certain countries. Cool! In Thailand, you can get your hands on almond choco balls (pretzel dough balls stuffed with chocolate and coated in crushed almonds), chicken dogs (mini chicken hot dogs rolled inside pretzel dough covered and dusted with cheese powder), and cranberry sticks (pretzel sticks infused with fruit flavor). In Japan, you might want to enjoy pretzel sticks filled with strawberry mascarpone, pretzel sticks filled with green tea and cream cheese flavors, or perhaps grab some pretzels topped with strawberry and milk powders on the go. Planning a trip to Egypt? Try some kunafa pockets, hunks of sweetened cheese covered with wheat crumbs.

Auntie Anne's donates money to charity

Auntie Anne's has a long tradition of donating money to many charitable causes through its corporate partnerships. The company has raised millions of dollars for Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation, an organization that combats childhood cancer. The chain also contributes to The First Tee, a group that offers leadership and career development to emerging entrepreneurs.

The next time you walk by an Auntie Anne's Pretzels, you can just nod your head knowingly.