When Brittany Garbutt handed over a cheque for $100,000 to start her pretzel business in a shipping container in Perth she wanted to vomit.
She was just 23 and hated it, spending 19 hours a day pumping out the pretzels in 2017. But she had returned to her home state and couldn’t find a job challenging enough – having worked in brand designed – and decided she had to strike out and create something of her own.
Four years later she has 10 stores which sell 660,000 pretzels a year and have a turnover of $5 million.
Her love of pretzels started from a job she worked as a teenager.
“When I was a kid, I worked in the most phenomenal pretzel place … I started at 14 and finished at 19. It was the most amazing work atmosphere, we were a little bit of a family. It was not an overwhelmingly great job, it’s very hot and you smell like cheese,” she told news.com.au.
“But I couldn’t find another pretzel that I was making as a kid and I used to crave them and when it came down to it I thought it was what the world needed.”
Now 27, Ms Garbutt took a huge gamble and sunk her entire life savings into starting the business, which included some of the money she had made as a teenager when she was earning $7 an hour.
“I’m from a South African family and culturally they are all about surviving – we don’t do family loans, so my business was all cash funded and I remain cash funded,” she revealed. “The money I make goes back into business. I don’t take loans.”
The Perth local experimented with a pretzel recipe for two months and decided to exclude milk products and make it vegan.
“We do sweet and savoury. The basis is similar to a pizza base, it’s very adaptable,” she explained. “The menu is able to be sat in and eaten, or taken away and it’s a light snack or heavy dessert.”
The average price for a pretzel, which are made fresh in stores, is $7.50. They come with 16 different toppings, with sweet options like chocolate mint slice, peanut butter and salted caramel, as well as savoury options such as barbecue cheeseburger, cheese and garlic and bacon. Cinnamon glaze is the bestseller across all stores.
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But when she started in the shipping container in Northbridge, Perth, within the first week she was trying to find an exit strategy.
“I was working out how to put it on Gumtree, how to get out the of licence. I hated it. It was difficult and I worked for an entire year doing 19 hours a day in the store,” she revealed.
“Basically, maybe month four or five I hit my stride with it, but the pretzels were so popular so quickly and essentially I was the only person who knew what I was doing and without the support of having a team that was trained, it was tough.
“On my 24th birthday I signed a contract for a store and I was still hating it but I was super passionate about the potential the company had. By end of the year I went to Tokyo for a holiday and when I got back I was like, ‘Mumma is home,’ but all the staff were fine and they were like, ‘We don’t need you anymore.’”
She went home and took a nap and wondered what to do next. Expansion was the obvious answer.
Pretzel Australia has since grown with five stores in WA and five stores in Victoria.
The younger crowd are big fans of the brand, according to Ms Garbutt, describing it as “cult following”.
“We generally see 18 to 24 year olds, they are our vibe. In Chapel Street and Northbridge Road, they are open to 2am in the morning and anyone who can drink is a big part of our crowd”, she said.
“My favourite thing is old grandpa and grandmas who are brought in by their grandkids taking them to Pretzel. The little kids love a cheese pretzel. But we have such a diverse community as the price point is accessible and pretzels give us the ability to be so appealing to so many different people. Lots of school kids love it as a haven.”
The stores are hard to miss too with a bright pink theme, although each has their own individual style.
“Everywhere is always pink and the reason behind that is it allows me to adapt the brand to give people new experiences. Our Chapel St store is motel themed, Doncaster in Melbourne is Toyko-themed and these themes still represent the brand well, but means we don’t have to do the same thing over and over again,” Ms Garbutt said.
“I’ve personally designed every single store and it’s 100 per cent selfish. When I did the Chapel St store I was watching so much Bates Motel and I had just come back from Coachchella, so it was a LA-inspired hotel meets Bates Motel.
“My favourite place in the world is Toyko and I normally go at least once a year but I couldn’t because of corona, so I thought I would design one store just like Toyko.
“There’s a downtown LA-themed one and a mini mart themed one in Perth as there is a 7-Eleven just down the road that I spent so much time in, so I thought let’s make it a pink 7-Eleven.”
Ms Garbutt credits Pretzel Australia’s success to focusing on just one product and doing it well.
“It’s easy to get completely immersed and obsessed with it and relate to one product rather than a café, restaurant or bar that was multiple offerings – it’s bit like McDonald’s and the burger,” she said.
Next for the business is opening a store in Brisbane and going further afield too with plans for Singapore as well. She’s also obtaining liquor licences for a few stores so people can have later nights, pretzels and some booze.