Sex, loss, grief, redemption and a Mennonite chicken farmer who made dreams come true
The genesis of most small businesses is filled with some measure of triumph and sacrifice, the natural elements that make up the heroics of entrepreneurship. But few “how I got started” tales are quite as rich as Anne Beiler’s, the woman behind mall staple Auntie Anne’s soft pretzels. Her’s includes devastating personal loss, grief, adversity, an abusive sexual relationship, long odds, achievement and at least one wildcard that appeared in the form of a Mennonite chicken farmer capable of writing million-dollar checks.
Fortune wrote about Beiler’s story last year (behind a paywall). Now, the site has a video (not behind a paywall) in which Beiler talks about how she grew her soft pretzel business from a single store to a worldwide brand with over a thousand locations. Here’s an excerpt from the 2013 story:
I was 19, and my husband, Jonas, was 21 when we married in 1968. We were a happy couple, and my only dream was to be a mom. We had two daughters until my daughter Angela was killed accidentally in 1975 when she was hit by a tractor on our farm. My life turned upside down. My husband and I weren’t able to connect emotionally, and I sought counseling with a pastor outside the Amish-Mennonite community. For six years I stayed in an abusive sexual relationship with that pastor, living in guilt and shame. The pastor’s license was revoked when his behavior with several women came to light. In 1982, when I began a life again with my husband, we were living paycheck to paycheck. My husband was a mechanic, and during our marital crisis he had studied to become a marriage and family counselor. He wanted to offer counseling services for free to our community, and we needed income. So I told him, “You’ve stayed with me despite all that I’ve done. So do what you want to do, and I’ll go to work.”
A friend told me that an Amish-owned store selling pretzels, ice cream, and pizza in the indoor Downingtown, Pa., farmers’ market was for sale. The owners wanted $6,000. I was astounded at the price because those kinds of weekend stores can bring in anywhere from $25,000 to $200,000 a year, depending on the location. We had no money, so we went to my husband’s parents, and they gave us the $6,000.
For anybody even remotely interested in starting their own business (or just reading an unbelievable yarn), it’s worth checking out.