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Port City Pretzels/VisitingNewEngland small business partnership - Local Small Business Stories

Profile of an American Small Business Owner Success Story: Suzanne Foley, of Port City Pretzels in Portsmouth, N.H.

Suzanne Foley, owner of Port City Pretzels in Portsmouth, N.H.
Suzanne Foley, owner of Port City Pretzels in Portsmouth. Photo source: Port City Pretzels Facebook fan page

Article and photos, unless otherwise noted, by Eric Hurwitz. Article created on 3/7/2018.

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These things are known to be true...

Those over 50-years-old who have lost their jobs can absolutely find new, meaningful career success. Just look at actress Betty White who achieved stardom at 51 when portraying Sue Ann Nivens in The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1973.

Now is a better time than any other in history for women to successfully own small businesses. Just look at J.K. Rowling, founder of the Harry Potter empire who once lived in poverty.

There's still room to put a twist on a time-tested product and co-exist as a small business with big brand names selling the same goods. Wicked Whoopies in Gardiner, Maine did just that, going from owner Amy Bouchard's kitchen hobby to a national sensation when it comes to  whoopie pies.

Overwhelming tragedy can be followed by personal happiness in life. Just look at country star Luke Bryan, who lost two siblings before becoming a country music star.

Nice people can finish first.  Just look at humble rock/pop star Ed Sheeran reaching out to others with random acts of kindness too numerous to mention here.

Take all of the above and then look at Portsmouth, N.H. resident Suzanne Foley.

A career-long corporate business employee, Foley, 57, all of a sudden found herself unemployed in 2015. In a short amount of time she also suffered through many overwhelming personal traumas, losing her dad and seeing her sister tragically pass away on her father's funeral day. Foley also lost her dog during this time. Going through emotional distress while finding her work life relegated to attending mandatory unemployment meetings, Foley never lost faith, thank goodness.

After one unemployment meeting, Foley wrote a letter centering in on what she wanted to do in life. She then had that "Aha Moment" and decided to put that "twist" on a time-tested product by starting a pretzel business. The Foley family had loved snacking on pretzels through the generations, and this gave Foley food for thought. Suzanne's mother-in-law, the late Eileen Foley, the longest serving mayor in Portsmouth serving eight terms (her mother, Mary C. Dondero was the first women mayor in New Hampshire and first east of the Mississippi) possessed a beloved family pretzel recipe that Suzanne further researched, tweaked and eventually perfected through trial and error. After several months, Foley started Port City Pretzels -- now affectionately known as "The People's Pretzel" -- in Portsmouth in November of 2015. 

In a remarkably short amount of time, Foley's business went from a 500 sq. ft. facility to a 900 sq. ft. space to the current 3,500 sq ft. Heritage Ave. pretzel manufacturing location, which is optimally compliant with Food and Drug Administration food business requirements. It all represented a stunning "180" from the demoralizing nature of unemployment. The local SCORE chapter --the nation's largest network of volunteer, expert business mentors -- has greatly helped Foley start up her new business, to this very day.  Foley soon found unexpected successes that almost read like something out of a storybook, or one of those improbable feel good movies of the year -- only this was real.

"Someone must be watching from up above," said Foley. "I still can't believe all this is happening, but I love it. I am so grateful."

The first 10 businesses who all said "Yes" to selling Suzanne's pretzels has quickly grown to 200 brick and mortar stores in New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware, New York and Washington, D.C.

Boes of pretzels ready to be shipped at Port City Pretzels in Portsmouth, N.H.
Boxes of pretzels ready to be shipped from Port City Pretzels in Portsmouth.

New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts possess the most stores selling Port City Pretzels. Locally famous businesses selling Port City Pretzels include MacKinnon's Market (Portsmouth and various locations), Wentworth By the Sea Hotel and Spa in Newcastle, N.H., the New Hampshire State Liquor Stores on Route 95 in Hampton (north and south bound), Zeb's General Store in North Conway, N.H., the Kittery Trading Post in Kittery, Maine, Shipyard Brewing Company in Portland, Maine, Cardullo's in Harvard Square (Cambridge, Mass.), Wilson Farm in Lexington, Mass., Volante Farms in Needham, Mass., and DeLuca's Market in Boston.  For a complete list of where to buy Port City Pretzels, click here.

The pretzels -- Tasty Ranch Dill, Cinnamon Sugar and Feisty Hot (all come in three different-sized bags) -- are addictive and delicious and clearly far beyond the norm in this food category with full-bodied accurate flavors, and an appealing, significant crunch. This writer brought back three bags (two regular size and one large size) for three people and the pretzels were gone within five days! They are, without a doubt, the best pretzels I have ever tasted.

Port City Pretzels Tasty Dill Ranch
Tasty Ranch Dill Pretzels from Port City Pretzels.

"Why do they taste so good?" asked Foley, already knowing the answer. "They are made with love, even as we get more automated. This is what I love doing."

Port City Pretzels has been featured locally on WMUR-TV Channel 9 in Manchester's New Hampshire Chronicle, Foster's Daily Democrat, SeacoastOnline, the Portsmouth Herald, To Market Online Magazine and Taste of the Seacoast, as well as SmartBrief and the Specialty Food Association, in New York City, N.Y. 
The New England Made Giftware and Specialty Food Show. recognized Port City Pretzels as the "Best New Product Winner" in 2016.

"Not a day goes by that I don't feel grateful," said Foley. "It is very hard for me to accept that this is all happening, but I have and feel great. I guess losing my (corporate job) was the best thing that ever happened.  You can feel very clouded in such a job.  Many people do not like their jobs, so I do feel blessed that I am doing what I love... You couldn't pay me enough to go back (to the corporate world)."

Foley employs under 10 people and uses a $45K Tridyne processing machine (named Barbara as an ode to a friend who helped Foley in the early going with the business) to keep up with the demand of pretzels from the consumer.

"Yes, I went through a lot, but never stopped believing," said Foley in her kind and authentic way. "You need to have faith."

Port City Pretzels mnufacturing facility in Portsmouth, N.H.
Port City Pretzels manufacturing facility.

"We have come a long way since hand-scooping pretzels into a bag," said Foley, a Poughkeepsie, N.Y., native who has a bachelors degree from Franklin Pierce College in Rindge, N.H.. "I have gone from making something at home to a completely different world."

Foley also sticks to what she knows best when making the pretzels.

"I know gluten-free and salt-free are popular, but not right now for us," said Foley. We have a good product!"

With all the success, Foley remains grounded and able to handle different kind of pressures. She receives lots of support, especially from her two daughters, Brynn (who works for Major League Baseball) and Eileen (a mental health counselor).

"I am comfortable and have kept things in check, "said Foley. "There's lots of support and I have brilliant people advising me. That helps a lot!"

Foley also takes on a very practical approach to business by always looking for a good bargain and keeping a good sense of humor.

"I need to buy a forklift and found one in Connecticut," said Foley. "It was on Craig's List. I buy a lot of things on Craig's List. But how do I bring that forklift back to Portsmouth? Yes, I guess there is stress, but it is not that bad!"

A growing dedicated fan base serves as a prime catalyst, ultimately, to Foley's successful business. She never forgets those precious moments of all that is good and most important in life.

"I do get overwhelmed, at times, but in a good way," said Foley. "At a show, I saw six deep (rows) of people in line waiting to buy pretzels. I started to cry. I believe in the goodness of things, and I will never forget that."

Port City Pretzels Web site: Facebook fan page: Twitter address: Instagram:

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Port City Pretzels in Portsmouth, N.H., specializes in delicious, one-of-a-kind pretzels. There is also quite an inspirational story behind the business.

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Related article:
Fun in Freeport, Maine at Wicked Whoopies

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