It was a total accident that led Brent and Marie Schweitzer to set up their fresh baked soft pretzel business on the Mall last March.
Four years ago they were living in Lake Tahoe and running a successful home remodeling business. One evening they were on their way to meet some clients in their Ford F-350 pickup truck, and had stopped behind a car that was in the process of making a left turn. Brent happened to glance into his rear view mirror where he saw an enormous tractor-trailer heading straight for them.
"That truck's gonna hit us," he thought, turning his head to warn Marie. But the words never left his mouth. The semi's brakes failed, and it slammed into them with what they later found out was 158 tons of kinetic energy.
Brent's brain hit the front and back of his skull and his neck snapped. Corrective surgery would involve the fusion of two vertebrae and the insertion of a titanium plate in his neck. He's been on pain medication ever since. "I was on seven morphine pills a day," he said. "I've moved from one pain killer to the next, and I'm still feeling the pain. The doctors say I'll be on pills for the rest of my life."
For her part, Marie suffered a double whip lash that resulted in intense headaches, and waves of pain that seemed to descend down through her body for days afterward.
The accident put an end to the remodeling business, which in turn forced them to deal with the problem of how to make a living going forward. Brent considered returning to school to train for a career in nursing, although at age fifty this seemed farfetched. In the end, they decided to pull up stakes and move to Colorado, where at least the job possibilities looked a little more promising.
"One night we went downtown for dinner," Marie said, "and afterwards we took a walk down the 16th Street Mall. We absolutely fell in love with it."
"This'd be a great place to open up a pretzel kiosk," Brent said, thinking back to his youth in Reading, Pennsylvania, where gourmet hand rolled pretzels are practically a staple. They called the Downtown Denver Partnership and requested an application form for a kiosk on the mall. By March of this year, "Pretzel Street" was up and running.
And so were the Schweitzers. These days they're at their commercial kitchen on Larimer Street by 8:30 in the morning. They rarely get home before 7:00. At the kitchen, they pre-mix the day's supply of fresh dough, and then haul it to the kiosk in five gallon tubs. Your pretzel is baked to order while you wait.
"We have ten kinds:" Brent said, "Jalapeño, salted with mustard, Parmesan, sesame seed, chocolate chip, cinnamon sugar, raisin, blue berry, tart cherry, and our specialty, strips of precooked bacon, ripped and rolled into the pretzel and baked. We also have dipping sauces; melted sharp cheddar, butter cream, marinara sauce, homemade cream cheese, honey Dijon, and caramel. They're all our own recipes."
In their first two months, they've averaged sales of 200 pretzels a day at $3.00 to $3.50 a pop, a sales figure they expect to double over the upcoming tourist season. In fact, business has been so good they're considering opening up a second location. "Maybe at the other end of the mall," Brent said. "Or maybe out at DIA. We'd also like to get a cartoon costumed mascot to hand out free samples."
Brent is still dealing with the pain, and he's constantly re-adjusting his neck to relieve the pressure. "I hurt all the time," he said. "Sometimes it's hard to smile. But I love being with people. That's what keeps us on 16th Street. Hey, life goes on. What are ya gonna do? Smile, be happy, and get your pretzels."
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Coming soon: "Cowboys, Yogis, and One-legged Ski Bums," a collection of the best of Don Morreale's examiner.com stories.