The pretzel bun craze might have peaked nationwide four years ago, when everyone from Wendy's to Sonic was featuring it as part of their regular menus. But Pretzilla, an 8-year-old, high-end pretzel bun brand out of Milwaukee, is having a moment.
Its newfound notoriety includes a January sighting on Top Chef, when a contestant made a sausage slider encased in a Pretzilla hot dog bun. There was also lots of unsolicited media coverage in November in several New York City publications, which featured Pretzilla's core product as the poster bun for the beef or lamb burger at Tetsu, a new restaurant opened by sushi chef Masa Takayama.
"One day I log onto the New York Post's [website], and on the home page I see a picture of our bun with the caption 'This is New York's best new burger,'" said Brian Miller, owner of 120-employee Miller Baking, which makes Pretzilla. "I was shocked. I knew instantly [the bun] was ours."
Once Miller confirmed with the restaurant that it was, in fact, using Pretzilla for its burgers — the chefs probably found Pretzilla at a nearby Whole Foods, which has carried the brand for several years — he struck a deal to ship buns weekly to Tetsu in January.
A contract with one urban eatery might not be enough to lift Pretzilla to a household name, but Miller is hoping that love from some high-profile foodies underscores what the rest of the nation will feel for his product once they know about it. In fact, Miller has so much faith in his pretzel bun that he's betting his family business on it.
As of January, Miller Baking, which was founded in 1923 and bought by the current owner's family in 1970, discontinued operating the way it had for nine decades — baking, selling and distributing 175 different bread products daily to Milwaukee area restaurants and stores. Today the company is solely focused on baking and marketing its four core pretzel bread variations: burger buns, mini buns, pretzel bites and sausage buns.
"It's hard to scale with 50 loaves of white bread and some pecan rolls and some challah bread," said Miller, 45, who first launched his pretzel bun in 2007. "We wanted to take our 175 SKUs [stock keeping units] and drive volume and scale with one of those."