HAMPSTEAD — When Markus Schmid walks into a room, people say, “Ah, you’re the pretzel man.”
For the past eight years, when there were fundraisers at his kids’ schools or events at church, Schmid would contribute baskets of bakery items. “People loved it and they said, ‘Hey, you should sell it,’” he recalled.
Related: Eclectic and unpretentious: New cheese and wine shop on the Riverwalk beckons European experience
That was never the plan. It was just a hobby, he would tell them.
Eventually, Schmid had heard the comments enough that he caved, and opened the doors to The Pretzel Man in early September.
Just like the pretzels he sells, Schmid made the shop with his own two hands. A general contractor, he did most of the construction work himself, which included demolishing the old home that sat on the lot at 13865 US-17 in Hampstead, along with the tree that had fallen on top of it. He installed the stucco, painted the walls, and when it was all ready, he cut a pretzel sign out of plywood and staked it along the highway.
Today, Schmid rolls dough in the back while customers place orders upfront. Rows of wooden wire baskets and shelves line the wall, filled with golden pretzels and puffy rolls. A display case holds other bestsellers: pretzel dogs, cheese pretzels, cheese and salami pretzels, and streusels.
The bakery already has built a diverse fanbase, from business people ordering a dozen en route to the office, to parents treating their kids to an afterschool snack, to Germans looking to buy a loaf for the week ahead.
All items are made from scratch.
Starting at 2 a.m., Schmid hits his alarm clock and heads to the shop for a long morning of baking. It’s the reason why the business’ hours are scarce, open just Tuesday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The mixing, dividing, shaping of the dough takes roughly an hour. Then it sits in the proofing room for 90 minutes before moving to the cooler. Next, the pretzels are dipped in lye and baked. It adds up to three to four hours and undeniably fresh results.
Schmid is originally from Germany, where the pretzels come crispy. He and his family moved to North Carolina in 2012 after years of vacationing in the U.S., mainly in Florida. They were drawn to the cooler weather and historic appeal of the Wilmington area, so they settled in Hampstead.
Like most transplants to America’s South, he quickly realized: “I didn’t like the bread here.”
Schmid invested in some equipment and a mixer, and started churning out homemade pretzels, loaves and rolls, perfecting recipes over the years. He learned how to bake from his friend in Germany, who also owns a bakery.
Although pretzels across the regions of Germany differ slightly, the U.S. has endless variations. Schmid uses a recipe that creates a fluffier and softer pretzel, which he found Americans enjoy more than the ones in his home country.
“I can make a German pretzel, but I want to make it the way people like it here,” he said, “and that’s also the way I like it.”
Now retired, Schmid sees The Pretzel Man as a way for him to partake in his hobby and spread joy to others, more so than a source of income. His long-term goal is to find an aspiring entrepreneur who loves baking to take over the business and grow it as they please.
Send tips and comments to Alex Sands at email@example.com