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A Pretzel Franchise That Won't Leave Anyone Bent Out of Shape This New York City firefighting franchise finds that with Philly Pretzel Factory there are mercifully few fires to put out.

By Joan Oleck

Franchise Players is Entrepreneur's Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email

He's in an honored profession -- New York City firefighter -- but Joe Russo doesn't just save lives, he makes pretzels. That's right: When he first heard about about Philly Pretzel Factory on TV, he looked around his stomping grounds of Bellmore, New York, and realized he'd found the means of reversing that region's distressing lack of places to find fresh, hot pretzels. So, while he hasn't quit his day job, Russo just this year embarked on a new side line and mission: bringing pretzels to the people of Long Island.

Name: Joe Russo

Franchise owned: Philly Pretzel Factory in Bellmore, NY

How long have you owned a franchise?

I joined the system earlier this year.

Related: Why Chipotle Won't Franchise

Why franchising?

I chose to open a Philly Pretzel Factory because it makes me feel like I have a partner and support system. I love a good pretzel and realized there weren't many places to get them around Long Island, but I had no experience with running a pretzel shop on my own. I needed a strong corporate team and network of franchisees that have already "been there and done that" to help guide me to success.

What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?

I was, and I am going to continue, being a New York City firefighter while I own and grow the Philly Pretzel Factory brand on Long Island.

Why did you choose this particular franchise?

I always wanted to open a hot pretzel store, and Philly Pretzel factory has the classic traditional pretzel product that I love. I saw Dan DiZio, the CEO and co-founder of Philly Pretzel Factory, on Undercover Boss, and that initially sparked my interest in the brand. After I reached out to the corporate staff, I learned that the brand wanted to grow in New York, and it seemed like the ideal opportunity for me.

How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?

A $25,000 royalty, $99,800 for construction, $104,500 for equipment and $15,000 for miscellaneous expenses.

Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?

I started my research on the internet and then filled in the blanks with Philly Pretzel Factory's corporate team. I also spoke to an owner of an independent pretzel store I found on Long Island. I wanted to learn more about the pretzel business from the owner to see if it was something I wanted to pursue.

Related: Can Fast Food Be Healthy? One Franchise Is Proving the Point and Profiting.

What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?

Being a firefighter, I deal with challenges every day. I've applied that same mentality to opening a new business. Nothing sticks out to me as the be-all, end-all, but you encounter small issues every day. You just have to deal with them as they come and find the correct solution.

What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?

You need to make sure that you have enough funds, and you also have to be totally devoted to it. Philly Pretzel Factory has an amazing product. Long Island doesn't have many places to get fresh, hot pretzels. And I felt like it was the perfect solution. You need to make sure that you're passionate about the franchise you're going to open, and you need to love the product or service because you need to be all in.

What's next for you and your business?

I want to grow in the community, to get the brand out there and to have several locations on Long Island. My goal is to eventually have five to six stores on Long Island, and for everyone to know me as "the pretzel guy." I want every Little League game, wedding-party bus, boat outing, beach trip, backyard barbeque, graduation party, office meeting and any place where a group of people are gathered to have a pretzel party tray!

Related: How a Franchisee Super-Group Is Changing the Franchising Landscape

Joan Oleck

Entrepreneur Staff

Associate Editor

Joan Oleck is an associate contributors editor at Entrepreneur. She has previously worked for Business Week, Newsday and the trade magazine Restaurant Business, where a cover story she wrote won the Jesse Neal Award.

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