A Pretzel Fortune: Beiler Sells Auntie Anne’s To Roark To Pursue Personal Interests

Succession wasn’t the reason that Sam Beiler sold the pretzel provider Auntie Anne’s to Roark Capital.

Beiler has worked for Auntie Anne’s in various capacities since 1989. Currently Chairman and CEO, Beiler agreed last week to sell the company, which makes nine different types of hand-rolled pretzels, including some covered in cinnamon sugar or in pepperonis. Auntie Anne’s employees roll, twist and bake the snacks in front of customers.

Beiler, 45, bought Lancaster, Pa.-based Auntie Anne’s in 2005 from then founders Anne and Jonas Beiler. Sam Beiler isn’t their son but a distant relative, says William Dunn, Auntie Ann’s president and COO.

Beiler currently owns 100% of Lancaster, Pa.-based Auntie Anne’s, a franchisor with nearly 1,100 stores spread through 44 states and 21 countries.

With the sale to FOCUS Brands, a Roark portfolio company, Beiler will be exiting the company. Beiler will have no stake in the company once the deal closes later this fall. Instead, the former CEO will be exploring personal interests and is very involved with the revitalization of downtown Lancaster, Dunn says.

“Sam Beiler is selling and he will be off pursuing other interests,” Dunn says. “He’s been here for 21 years. For himself–personally and professionally– the timing was right.”

With Beiler’s departure, Dunn will be leading Auntie Anne’s. However, it’s unclear whether he will be named CEO. “My current title hasn’t changed,” Dunn says.

Auntie Anne’s, which employs 220 people, isn’t expecting job cuts. And the company will remain “autonomous,” Dunn says. Management will also stay in place.

Auntie Anne’s is known for its hand-rolled soft pretzels that can be found in trains stations, airports, malls, some casinos and even in various WalMarts. In the past year, the company has fielded nearly 100 calls from parties looking to buy Auntie Anne’s. Most of the calls were from PE firms, Dunn says.

Auntie Anne’s didn’t conduct an auction. In late 2009, Erik Morris, a Roark managing director, placed a call to Sam Beiler (pictured to the right), which led to the eventual sale. Dunn wasn’t in on those first discussions. “There must’ve been something in the conversation that caused enough interest for Sam to meet with him,” Dunn says.

Neither Roark nor Auntie Anne’s hired outside bankers. Auntie Anne’s chose Roark, an Atlanta PE firm that has made several investments in the consumer sector, because it wanted to retain its own culture, Dunn says. “This is a great opportunity for the company,” he says.

Steve Romaniello, a Roark managing director, says the pretzel maker is a perfect fit for FOCUS, which owns ice cream company Carvel, Cinnabon, and Seattle’s Best Coffee. “Auntie Anne’s is a great product,” he says.

“They’re a clear leader in the category and there is a whole lot of room for growth.”

Auntie Anne’s is expected to produce north of $370 million in system-wide revenue this year, Dunn says. No decision has been made about offering Auntie Anne’s pretzels with any of FOCUS’s other products, like Cinnabon, at the same locations. “As of right now, it’s too early to tell what co-branding opportunities exist,” he says.