Young entrepreneurs turn grandma’s pretzel recipe into growing business


Year 2014 is the year of the entrepreneur. There has been a growing trend of entrepreneurship being embraced as a positive way to create the jobs for the present and the future.

A dirty word in the past, entrepreneurship is increasingly becoming celebrated and encouraged.

Some of the many entrepreneurs on the prowl this year are Casey May and Sean McSweeney of Kennesaw. They started their business about a year ago and are headed down a road to success. What had started as an idea blew up in their minds and has taken over local retail stores in the Metro Atlanta area.

It all began with Sean’s grandmother’s pretzel recipe that has been in his family for many years, stemming from their Irish and German decent. Beer and pretzels were a normal pairing in his household and the popularity of her snack rapidly increased amongst family and friends.

“We have been best friends for the last ten years, and have always had an eye for entrepreneurial ideas for these delicious pretzels,” says Sean McSweeney. “One day while sitting around with our friends, we decided to come up with an official name for our pretzel business.”

(From left to right) Casey May and Sean McSweeney handing out free samples at a local beer festival. Photo by Kyleigh Strid.
(From left to right) Casey May and Sean McSweeney handing out free samples at a local beer festival. Photo by Kyleigh Strid.

They decided on Knotty Pretzels.

The best friends started by finding a co-packager that agreed to manufacture their pretzels. This helped keep their overhead costs low, allowing them to focus their energies on the sales and distribution of Knotty Pretzels. Then, they began marketing and selling the pretzels at a wide variety of events in the Metro Atlanta region. These events included art festivals, farmer’s markets, and music festivals.

After a few months, the highly anticipated time came when they decided to participate in an event at a craft brewery, finally pairing the pretzels and the beer together again.

“The response was overwhelming,” says Casey May. “In fact, we sold more bags in one hour at this event, than we had ever sold at any event.”

This is when they decided to narrow their marketing strategy to focus exclusively on tying their brand to the craft beer consumer market.

“We began traveling to beer festivals around the United States and selling our product in local craft beer stores,” says McSweeney. “The feedback that we have received with our product since we found our niche has been phenomenal.”

Both Casey and Sean have now made Knotty Pretzels their full time jobs and have funded the business completely on their own.

Currently, 80 local retail stores around Metro Atlanta sell their pretzels, with 20 stores selling their product out of state.

“We handle the distribution of our pretzels weekly, and you can certainly find us on the weekends at beer festivals handing out our free samples and selling Knotty pretzel necklaces,” says May. “We have traveled across the United States marketing our pretzels at major craft beer festivals.”

The rapid growth in the craft beer market has provided Knotty Pretzels with a fantastic opportunity to have a niche for their product.

“Our goal is to have our product placed on the beer aisles at stores across the country,” says McSweeney. “This allows us to separate ourselves from the traditional pretzel market.”

Knotty Pretzels are sold in over 80 stores nationwide. Photo by Kyleigh Strid.
Knotty Pretzels are sold in over 80 stores nationwide. Photo by Kyleigh Strid.

Knotty Pretzels has worked their way into many local growlers in the metro Atlanta area, one of them being Stout Brothers in Smyrna.

Stout Brothers is locally owned and operated and has committed to offering Knotty Pretzels in their establishment.

Brandon King, owner of Stout Brothers, has had a long-time passion for the restaurant and bar industry.

He is known as a “master mixologist,” who has endless creativity for pairing great drinks with great food.

The goal at Stout Brothers is to share products of local breweries and culinary geniuses with the communities that house them.

“We’ve teamed up with local breweries, local chefs, pastry and savory, to bring you all things tasty,” says Byron Fullmer, co-owner. “Casey and the guys came in selling their product and we gave them a chance. Now, one of our hottest products that customers buy to match with their beer is Knotty Pretzels.”

Fullmer went on to explain how they tried this pretzel product by offering free Knotty Pretzels with beer samples to see how customers would respond. Very quickly, Fullmer and King had to call Knotty Pretzels about ordering more products because the free samples were such a success, and people wanted more.

Stout Brothers are branded on introducing the community to fresh, new local product, so they were excited to partner with Knotty Pretzels.

Just like their success with Stout Brothers, Knotty Pretzels is enjoying similar success in other local retail stores. By participating in beer festivals all over the southeast, they have widened their market and aren’t stopping there.

McSweeney and May are on a mission to expand towards commercial stores and build up more distribution in the southeast. To learn more about their pretzels and their brand, visit their Facebook page at


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