Kim Holstein of Kim and Scott's Gourmet Pretzels
by Sarah B. Weir
Sometimes the best ideas are the most twisted. That's what Kim Oster Holstein discovered when she launched her business, Kim and Scott's Gourmet Pretzels, in 1995. After reading an article about a soft pretzel stand at a local Chicago green market, Kim became obsessed with the idea that she could turn the pretzel concept inside out - literally. She envisioned stuffed pretzels in funky flavors like cinnamon roll and grilled cheese, a whole new spin on a classic American snack. At the same time, her dream was to create a company that would serve the community as well as turn a profit.
When Kim heard that pretzels were invented in 610 by a monk who gave them to children as gifts for good scholarship, her vision of "Pretzels W ith a Purpose" started to feel like fate.
Though many people shot down her idea, Kim's future husband, Scott, encouraged her to "go for it." The couple met at a book signing in 1994, and within months, Scott was helping her bake pretzel prototypes in her studio apartment at night after their day jobs, hers as an ad agency executive and his, breaking into the Chicago theater world and temping. Scott's parents owned the first Ben and Jerry's franchise in Chicago, so Scott understood that crazy flavors, social responsibility, and a thriving business model could all be part of one delicious mix.
Kim and Scott Holstein, who run a multi-million pretzel company that focuses on helping othersOne day, early in their relationship, Scott showed up at Kim's door with a handmade piggy bank decorated with a flying pretzel and the motto, "Dreams made upon deposit will come true." As the business grew, they started papering the apartment with sticky-note affirmations such as, "Our sales are $200,000, but we have a million-dollar business."
As Kim describes it, they expanded their business "organically," branching out from selling freshly made pretzels in regional outlets to creating their own line of frozen products for national distribution. Today, Kim and Scott's Gourmet Pretzels is worth between $10 million and $15 million.
Kim, who calls herself the CIO or "Chief Inspiration Officer" of her company, still posts affirmations around her office. One reads, "We are going to make and sell a million pretzels a week." Kim says, "Sure, we're not there yet, but we have a vision for growth. We see those numbers and believe them."
They are halfway there: Kim and Scott's Gourmet Pretzels sells about 500,000 pretzels a week through 15,000 grocery stores across the country plus Walmarts, Whole Foods, and food service outlets such as smoothie bars, movie theaters, and Barnes and Noble cafes. The company employs more than 80 people.
At the same time, Kim has launched a number of community service initiatives around the Chicago area and beyond. Her Pretzel Dough program raises money for elementary schools, and Pretzel Power invites high school students to shadow a variety of jobs around the company's 38,000-square-foot bakery and is also partnered with the Chicago Entrepreneurial Center to provide paid internships to young people interested in becoming entrepreneurs. Kim says her Pretzels With a Purpose programs keep her "energized, inspired, and focused."
One of the highlights of Kim's job is travelling around the country speaking to women aspiring to start their own businesses. As she puts it, "Helping to transform just one person's life can have a significant ripple effect on the wider economy."
Kim's top three tips for women entrepreneurs:
- · "Create a plan to implement your dream; it's critical to have a road map."
- · "Every 'no' brings you closer to a 'yes.'" Learn from your rejections and never give up.
- · Find a mentor. "If you believe 100% in your idea and reach out to others, they will help you achieve your goal."
Find more ideas on the company's webpage, Twisted Tips for Building Your Dreams. And if you'd like to help girls gain the skills and confidence to be successful in business similar to Kim's, check out Step Up Women's Network.