From the February 2000 issue of Startups

One bite of a fresh, hot, hand-rolled soft pretzel, and Ray McConnell was sold. The salesman had never expected a simple afternoon excursion to the mall to turn into a major career move.

In 1992, when his friend Charlie Bauer suggested McConnell go with him to visit the then-unknown Auntie Anne's franchise in which Bauer was thinking about investing, McConnell was more than skeptical.

"I couldn't see making a living selling pretzels," recalls McConnell, now 37. But the never-ending line at the pretzel counter was enough to change his mind. With flavors like Glazin' Raisin, Parmesan Herb and Cinnamon/Sugar, pretzel snacking was on the rise. Before he knew it, McConnell and Bauer were opening their first Auntie Anne's franchise in New Philadelphia, Ohio.

"When we first started out, we took over a cinnamon-roll place," McConnel remembers. "The [former owner] shook his finger at me and said, `You're never going to make it just selling pretzels and lemonade.' When I saw him a year later I had to shake my finger back at him."

McConnell kept his sales job and helped run the franchise part time, but three years later, in 1996, he quit his job to devote himself full time to Auntie Anne's. Now, he and Bauer own six franchises, as well as a concession trailer, which they took to the Olympics in 1996. Eventually, McConnell's, Lisa, 33, quit her teaching job to join the Auntie Anne's family.

McConnell credits the company's success to its clean environment, great customer service and variety of fresh pretzels. Whatever he's doing, he must be doing it right--his 1999 sales topped $2.2 million.

His latest venture--a relatively new concept for Auntie Anne's Inc.--involves opening a location inside a Wal-Mart. And it won't be his last. Says McConnell, "We don't have any intention of slowing down." Start-up costs for an Auntie Anne's franchise begin at $156,000.