California-Based Wetzel’s Pretzels Plans Aggressive Expansion in Canada [Interview]

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Armed with a vision and a tasty recipe for soft pretzel perfection, Bill Phelps and Rick Wetzel opened the first Wetzel’s Pretzels bakery in Redondo Beach, Calif., in 1994.

“Long lines of hungry customers soon formed, attracted by mouth-watering soft pretzels that were hand-rolled, baked fresh and served hot from the oven. As word spread about these golden-on-the-outside pretzels, the company added additional offerings to its menu,” says the company on its website.

“Today, Wetzel’s Pretzels has grown to more than 340 fresh bakeries across the United States and around the world, including premier locations at Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort. Every Wetzel’s Pretzels bakery lives by the original vision of its founders; that each super-premium pretzel will be crafted from fresh dough and baked in-store consistently throughout the day, to ensure a delicious offering for each customer, regardless of when the craving for a pretzel strikes.”

Image: Wetzel’s Pretzels
Wetzel’s Pretzels at Union Station in Toronto (Image: Dustin Fuhs)

And now the concept is in expansion mode in Canada.

Vincent Montanelli

“One of the things that’s super exciting about our brand is next year, 2024, we will be celebrating our 30th anniversary,” said Vincent Montanelli, COO and brand leader. 

“We will open our 400th location in 2024 in January.”

The company, which is based in Pasadena, California right near the Rose Bowl, opened its first store in 1994 in the South Bay Galleria in Redondo Beach in Southern California. Its parent company is MTY Food Group based in Montreal.

Today, it only has five stores in Canada. It recently opened its latest Canadian location in Union Station in Toronto.

“The reason why that’s so exciting is because MTY is a Canadian based, publicly-traded company. It’s a very large company. So one of the great things about MTY’s acquisition of Wetzel’s Pretzels (in 2022) is it really opened the door for Canada for us because they have so many restaurants and so much development history there. This is the first one in Toronto that we’ve developed under the ownership of MTY and the help of MTY and we have big plans for expanding in the Canadian market next year and into the future,” said Montanelli.

Wetzel’s Pretzels at Union Station Franchisee Bruce Liu (Image: Wetzel’s Pretzels)

“The company is publicly traded so I wouldn’t want to speculate incorrectly. But we plan on significant development in Canada.

“The market already has pretzel purveyors in it. We know the Canadian consumer responds well to the product. We think the strategic alliance with our parent company gives us a really good connection to the developers in order to identify locations, in order to plug into their franchise network. Call me biased but I believe our pretzels are better and I believe that our product is more exciting. I believe that our brand is more relevant. It’s something that I’ve spent 20 years of my life developing and I have a big passion for it. I think the Canadian consumer will be excited to get to experience what we share with customers at 400 locations in the U.S. every single day.”

Image: Wetzel’s Pretzels

Montanelli said the company wants to bring pretzels to the people. That means it’s looking for many different avenues for customers to use the brand and for franchisees to develop.

“We have the traditional footprint in malls where you can get a pretzel or a lemonade or a Wetzel Dog at a traditional location in the mall at a kiosk. In the U.S., we’re growing today inside Walmarts and inside Macy’s. We’re also developing inside of large travel plazas where people stop for gas and buy food,” he said.

“And we’re also taking it on the road and delivering at food trucks throughout the country. I think in Canada we want to let the consumer get familiar with our product. So we’ll do just like we did in the U.S. and we’ll start out in the malls and we’ll help consumers learn about us and we’ll do that for the next  year or two or three and then with our experience here in the U.S. and understanding how to grow and develop the brand strategically, we’ll move into those other avenues much more quickly than we did in the U.S.. I think we can develop rapidly in Canada with our experience and with our partners.”

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

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