La Grange home recipe twists into irresistible snack
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:22AM
Favorite foods are often the result of happy accidents.
Like when Ruth Wakefield ran out of baking chocolate while she was making a batch of cookies and smashed up a regular chocolate bar that she happened to have on hand, thus creating the instant-classic chocolate chip cookie.
Other beloved foods also came about thanks to some last-minute tinkering and substitutions, from potato chips to hot dogs to ice cream cones.
Serendipity had a lot to do with a new product now on store shelves in La Grange, Western Springs and other surrounding communities.
As it turns out, if you smash some pretzels and add some buttery goodness and salty-sweetness to them, you get a rather irresistible snack. Just ask Bob Albertini of La Grange, who, with business partner Bob Driscoll, launched Aggie’s Broken Pretzels earlier this year.
“My grandma, Agnes, used to make onion and garlic broken pretzels,” explains Albertini, who carried on that tradition over the years, making the snack and bringing it to parties and give away as gifts.
As is the case with many foodstuffs that started as family recipes (and with recipes that started as a happy accident), people started telling Albertini that his food was incredible and that he should think about selling it.
Fellow La Grange resident Driscoll is of those people who remarked early and often how good the broken pretzels were.
“We brought some to him for a housewarming gift and the next morning, after the party, he ate the whole bag. Then he said, ‘You have to do something with this!’” remembers Albertini.
Over the past few years, the two Bobs started seriously assessing how to launch the pretzels in a commercial way. They came up with the product name as a nod to Albertini’s Grandma Agnes, who had made her version of the broken pretzels a hometown favorite back in the area in Pennsylvania where he grew up.
“Earlier this year, we started getting some traction, and launched Aggie’s Broken Pretzels on Mother’s Day,” recalls Albertini.
They used a cinnamon flavor to start with, one that was based on one of the Albertinis’ favorite sticky bun recipes.
Their home kitchens couldn’t accommodate the production, of course, so Albertini and Driscoll — who both had busy lives with their jobs and respective families — asked Kelly Ford, owner of From Scratch in downtown La Grange, if they could rent time in her commercial bakery kitchen. That’s where they still make the pretzels, and break them. One of their taglines, in fact, is “Hand-broken in La Grange.”
While he crunches pretzels, Albertini is also busy crunching numbers, both in his finance career and for his fledgling food brand.
“Bob is on the road doing sales (for Aggie’s Broken Pretzels) and in the evenings, after work, I’m crunching the numbers,” he notes.
So far, the broken pretzels have elicited the same kind of reaction from customers as they have over the past several years (decades, actually) from those who had a chance to taste the family recipe. According to Albertini, customer response has been strong in stores where the product is on the shelf, including Devries Grocery & Market in La Grange, Casey’s Market in Western Springs, Kramer Foods in Hinsdale, Sunset Foods in the northern suburbs and other retail locations. ~.
The two Bobs also busy on the new product development side, getting ready to add a new favorite to the Aggie’s brand. As soon as they get a big shipment of onion and spice mix, expected in mid-September or so, they will introduce the onion and garlic variety, similar to the seasoned pretzel that the original Agnes made.
They are also putting the finishing touches on a new website for the Aggie’s brand. The new site also should be up and running soon, as a way to link consumers and retailer with the products.
Given his love of pretzels and his knack for product devilment, Albertini also finds new ways to add his family recipe broken pretzels into a dish.
“I took a bunch of pretzels down to my brother and we went and got some homemade vanilla ice cream. You crumble them up some more and sprinkle them over the ice cream,” he says.
Delicious. And perhaps, once again serendipitous.
(Note: in the name of “research” for this story, I did consume a small bag of Aggie’s Broken Pretzels, which I purchased at a local market. I had to do so away from my husband and children, in front of the television, and do so in a quick manner before anyone else in my family could consume them. I was highly successful in that regard, and am grateful for the opportunity to conduct such “research.” I might also have to analyze the onion and garlic brand upon its launch. You know, all in the name of good journalism.)