Dorothy Henke knows people go wild for Dot’s Homestyle Pretzels. Fans have described themselves as “obsessed” with the crunchy pretzel twists, seasoned with a secret blend of butter, spices and other ingredients.
And while her popular pretzels have earned a fervent following, particularly in the the upper Midwest, many don’t realize how the business got its humble start in Arizona.
In 2009 and nearing retirement, Dorothy and her husband, Randy Henke, began spending their winters in Arizona. Dorothy, who grew up on a dairy farm in North Dakota, was looking forward to the next chapter of her life.
She didn’t expect one request to change their plans, or to lead her and Randy to build their own snack company. It wasn’t always easy, Dorothy recalls of the business’s early days.
“I was determined because of experiences from consumers,” she says. “Their reactions, from little kids to older people, everybody seemed to really, really enjoy (the pretzels).”
How Dot’s Pretzels began in Arizona
Dorothy and Randy settled in Goodyear for their winter home. Randy had a cousin who lived in the Valley, and his cousin’s wife worked in sales and advertising for magazines.
One winter, his cousin’s wife asked Dorothy if she could make seasoned pretzels as homemade Christmas gifts for clients. To prepare the 30 to 40 bags, Dorothy purchased pretzel twists from Sam’s Club, seasoned them in her kitchen in Goodyear and baked them two trays at a time in her oven.
“Her phone went off the hook,” Dorothy says. “All these customers called her back asking her where could they buy this. It was just done out of my kitchen. It was a conversation piece that just made us think, ‘Is this something?'”
After registering her home kitchen as a commercial one, Dorothy began making more pretzels, sticking home-printed labels on the bag.
The Henke family settled on the name “Dot” even though no one had ever called Dorothy that, because “Dorothy’s Pretzels” sounded like something for old people, she said.
‘I never dreamt of owning a business’
Dorothy began putting out samples and selling her pretzels next to the hot dog stand at flag football games in Peoria. She has heard people describe the taste of the pretzels in different ways, and it surprises her what the taste buds bring out in different people.
After the positive feedback, she and her husband took the business back to North Dakota, where, in the beginning, she operated out of a grocery store bakery. They sent sample boxes to gas stations in every North Dakota city with more than 1,000 people, Dorothy said.
“It took me awhile to get across the state of North Dakota,” she says. “I took my time. I didn’t want to go in the hole. I was very conservative.”
She and Randy eventually grew the business into what it is today. After opening her first pretzel plant in her home state, she opened a second plant in Goodyear in 2015.
“We had fun,” Dorothy says. “No way I thought in a million years that we’d be doing what we’re doing today. I never dreamt of owning a business.”
Where to find Dot’s Pretzels in metro Phoenix
Despite having a plant in Goodyear, Dot’s Pretzels can be found only in select stores in the Valley. Dorothy admitted Arizona has been a tougher market to break into, but she’s pleased with how her business has grown.
“I like the independent people,” she said. “The small town I grew up in has influenced the way I’ve expanded. Some places want to go all in, and that’s a big step. Ace (Hardware) would let me grow at my pace.”
Here are some places in metro Phoenix where you can find a bag of Dot’s Pretzels:
Ace Hardware: Most Ace Hardware stores likely sell them, but since stores are independently owned, it’s best to call ahead and check. The Arizona Republic confirmed the following Ace Hardware stores are selling Dot’s Pretzels:
- Glendale: 7150 N. 51st Ave.
- Central Phoenix: 1940 W. Indian School Road
- Tempe: 1805 E. Baseline Road
Albertsons: 8035 N. 19th Ave. in Phoenix.
Fry’s Food Stores: Most stores in Arizona carry Dot’s Pretzels, including the downtown location, confirmed a Fry’s spokesperson.
Total Wine & More: An employee at the SanTan Village location said all the Total Wine & More stores in Arizona carry the snack.