Williston student creates hit snack business
Nov. 26, 2008
By Tim Simard
Simultaneously hot, crunchy and, above all, spicy with the punch of cayenne pepper, Alec’s Spicy Pretzels have quickly become the number one snack at Williston Central School and Champlain Valley Union High School.
Observer photo by Tim Simard
Alec Distler, a Williston Central School eighth grade student and owner of Alec’s Spicy Pretzels, holds up 3- and 9-ounce bags of his popular fiery snack. The pretzels have become a hit at Champlain Valley Union High School and around Williston.
Pretzel brainchild Alec Distler, Williston Central School eighth grader and entrepreneur extraordinaire, has been marketing and selling his popular snack for only a few months, but has already developed a devoted following at both schools.
And he’s big in town, as well. Distler has successfully sold the pretzels to local shops — the stores keep calling for more supplies as they repeatedly sell out. To paraphrase the old Lay’s potato chip adage, you apparently can’t eat just one.
Distler has even become a celebrity of sorts. While on a recent field trip with CVU students, he was quickly recognized as the “pretzel kid.”
“They kept saying, ‘We have a celebrity on the bus!’” Distler said. “One kid even wanted my autograph, which was a little interesting.”
Mike Adams, owner of Eddie’s Energy Bars in Richmond, is Distler’s advisor for the business. He sees a big future for Alec’s Spicy Pretzels.
“He’s got a solid foundation,” Adams said. “America is a snack culture and you can never have too many snack options.”
More than just a passing hobby, Distler means business with his spicy pretzels. So far, he said, he’s made $3,000. He’s quick to point out the money has gone into updating equipment, but he hopes to give himself a nice Christmas bonus next month. And he hopes to have an even bigger bonus if the company is successful enough to pay for his college tuition.
The genesis of Alec’s Spicy Pretzels came about last year during Al Fletcher’s social studies class in Full House at Williston Central School. As part of a study in economics, students were awarded Monopoly money for good grades and could cash in at the end of the year for prizes. Distler decided to sell small bags of the pretzels, made with an old family recipe, to classmates for their Monopoly money.
It worked. Distler had the most money in the class — more than $30,000 in Monopoly cash — and “bought” a camera.
It dawned on Distler and his family that there might be some real money in selling the fiery concoction to the public. The Distlers tried it out by setting up a booth at the Williston Farmer’s Market, selling 6- and 12-ounce bags of the pretzels. Again, the snack was a success.
“We actually sold out a couple times, which was pretty awesome,” Distler said.
Building upon the success of the farmer’s market, Distler approached CVU’s Food Service Director Leo LaForce to sell in the school’s cafeteria. The pair agreed to start by selling 50 3-ounce bags. Within days, LaForce called saying he’d sold out and wanted 100 more. After selling out again within a matter of days, LaForce asked for 100 bags twice a week.
“They like spicy here at CVU,” LaForce said. “When we run out, students are always looking for (the pretzels) and asking for them.”
Now, LaForce is getting 300 bags on Mondays and 300 bags on Wednesdays. The bags cost $1.25 for students, LaForce said.
Distler also sells his pretzels to businesses in Williston, including Clark’s Sunoco, Adams Apple Orchard & Farm Market and Natural Provisions. The bags are also on sale at the Shelburne Market and Shelburne Country Store, and at Lantman’s Best Yet in Hinesburg. The pretzels are sold in 3- and 9-ounce bags, with prices varying by location.
Distler’s newest customer is the University of Vermont. He said he just got a call from the college’s bookstore looking for another shipment after selling out in a matter of days.
Distler is incorporating his new business as part of his eighth grade challenge at Williston Central School. Along with passing an inspection with the Vermont Department of Health, he’s incorporated the business into an official LLC, built a Web site — www.alecsspicypretzels.com — and is donating 10 percent of his proceeds to the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf. His hard work, he hopes, will leave him in good standing for his school project.
With his success locally, Distler is looking beyond eighth grade and into bigger markets.
“We’ve had some dreams, you could say,” Distler said.
He’d like to see his pretzels in more local stores, and thinks they would make a great snack for sports venues. Distler also has relatives who want to bring the spicy pretzels to Pennsylvania and New York City. A new packaging label, to be unveiled next month, should help to drive sales, he said.
Distler admits the business has become a full-time job, but credits has parents, Frank and Lynn, and siblings with helping him mix spices and break up pretzels into bite-size bits. But he’s committed to his spicy enterprise.
“They’re my favorite food,” Distler said with a smile.