Philly Pretzel Factory CEO Makes It Big With A Twist, Talks About 'Undercover Boss' Stint
Dan DiZio, the president of Philly Pretzel Factory, visited the Broomall branch on CBS' hit reality show 'Undercover Boss' and offers a franchise to an assistant manager at the branch.
BENSALEM–Dan DiZio admits he wasn't exactly cutting the mustard all the time while attending Bensalem Public Schools.
But his time away from the classroom, spent along Roosevelt Boulevard in Philly, led him to making a lot of dough, both figuratively and literally.
DiZio started selling pretzels for Kensington Soft Pretzel Factory when he was 11 years old.
"It was like an internship," he said. "The owner set me up on the corner of Rhawn and The Boulevard. "Whatever I sold I'd split 50-50. I was on Roosevelt Boulevard every day -- every weekend and after schools.
"In middle school my principal caught me selling pretzels on the corner," he said. "My father had died that year and he thought my mom was hurting for money and put me on the corner."
That wasn't the reason DiZio was out there. He was doing what he wanted and making $100 a day. All the while, he was dreaming of starting his own pretzel company.
Not long after graduating from East Stroudsburg University he and former college roommate Len Lehman were looking to do something different.
"We both hated our jobs," he said, "And I knew a lot about the pretzel business."
The problem was that no one was making pretzel-baking machines.
"I found one online in Florida and we rented a U-Haul and we drove down there," he said. "It was a 1930 model in the garage of a guy's house with a lawnmower on top of it and the price was $20,000."
DiZio said Lehman told him there was no way he was going to spend $10,000, especially since there was no way to check it out with a commercial electrical hookup.
"We actually left and I said, "You know, if we leave, we're going back to our jobs. I bet we can get the price down.' So we went back and started haggling at 11 in the morning and it was midnight and were still in the guy's garage. I think we wore him down. We wound up paying $11,500."
In May 1998, the partners opened up their pretzel factory on Frankford Avenue in the Mayfair section of Philly. DiZio spent $34,000, maxing out all his credit cards.
And right off the bat, there was a surprise for the planned wholesale venture that was selling 100 pretzels for $13.
"We were next to a famous deli (Moe's) and we couldn't keep up with the demand. There was a line that didn't go away until 5 in the afternoon," he said. "We'd drive to Sam's Club every night for flour ... and we were sleeping on flour bags in the store."
"We couldn't keep up, literally. We didn't even have a cash register," Dizio said while adding that they put their money into their aprons.
"We were working 21-hour days. It was a success and nightmare at same time."
So, they decided they needed to go the retail route and soon began to hire college friends to help and eventually run stores at different locations.
The rest, as they say, is history, with 130 stores in eight states now open. Recently, DiZio's success turned into some TV fame as he appeared, with dyed hair, a retainer and blue contact lenses on CBS' hit reality TV show Undercover Boss. Not only did he get to return to his business roots, twisting and baking pretzels.
"It was great to see such dedicated employees. ... It was eye-opening. They put their life savings to sort of buy into my dream," he said.
In the end, DiZio gave a franchise to an employee struggling trying to raise two little girls.
That employee was Marques Chandler, who started off as a baker–getting to the store at 4 a.m.–and working his way up to assistant manager at the Broomall branch.
The company's current effort is centered on opening Philly Pretzel Factories in amusement parks like Dorney Park along with malls. There will be one open at Franklin Mills Mall in several weeks.
DiZio says simplicity is the key to the success of Philly Pretzel Factory.
"It's essentially one product, and everybody either loves or like pretzels. There are very few people who don't eat pretzels. Name another product that nobody doesn't like," said the 41-year-old father of two boys. "And the customers are from 2 years old to 100 years old. "