If Bill Lichty walked into Hammond Pretzel Bakery today, 85 years after he co-founded it, he’d still feel right at home.
First of all, it wouldn’t be difficult for Lichty to find the place: Hammond is located just where he and his grandfather began it, tucked in the backyard of what had been Lichty’s home off South West End Avenue in Lancaster city.
The process still is virtually the same, and he might even recognize something of himself in the people who run the place. Karen Achtermann and Brian Nicklaus are fifth-generation family members who keep the Hammond recipe for sourdough pretzels alive.
Their father, Tom Nicklaus, who also had run Hammond Pretzels for years, passed away in March.
Hammond has been around for much longer than National Pretzel Day, which this year falls on April 26, next Tuesday, so we figured we’d turn to Achtermann and Nicklaus to learn more about pretzels and about Hammond, the oldest continuously family-operated handmade pretzel bakery in America.
Achtermann answered most of our questions. Following the long tradition of being a business owner, Brian Nicklaus had been called to other duties: some trouble-shooting on the bakery roof.
(Questions and answers have been edited for brevity)
Why are pretzels so popular?
I think part of it is people like their salty snacks. As far as ours … I think it’s the tradition. They’re thicker, but they’re not ‘solid hard’ like machine pretzels. The sourdough gives them extra flavor … and combined with being handmade, and the dough’s treated more gently and everything happens naturally, it leads to a crisper, lighter pretzel.
Karen, what’s your earliest memory of the bakery?
I’m not sure how old I was; I was little. There were some ladies here that my grandfather had hired, they had worked here for a long time, and my mom would come over to help my dad do the payroll. There was a spot behind our conveyor belt, and they’d get me set up with cans to sit on and coloring books, and I’d sit there and color while my mom did the payroll.
What’s the weekly routine at Hammond?
It’s still sourdough, so we make that a day in advance. Right now, my brother (Brian) and my husband, Karl, take turns. We’re never making the sourdough on Saturday, because we don’t ever bake on a Sunday.
Is this still the original location?
This was started by my grandfather and my great-great-grandfather. Three generations lived in the houses in front of the bakery. These were their garages that they converted into a bakery, and we’ve added on over the years.
Where do you get your ingredients?
(Both): We have to use a little flour from the Midwest (because of gluten content), but all our main flour comes from Snavely’s Mill in Lititz. From C.O. Nolt and Sons suppliers in Conestoga Valley we get salt, the higher-gluten flour, soybean oil and malt. The boxes are made locally; the chocolate (for clusters) is Wilbur; the cans used to be local until we couldn’t get the right size anymore.
Karen: And nothing gets wasted. Whatever (salt) falls on the floor, we sweep up. We either sell it to farmers, or people who garden or for ice melt.
Brian: A lot of asparagus people this time of year come in and get salt. They put it around their asparagus patch to control weeds.
Karen: Nothing ever gets thrown away here. We recycle cardboard; we reuse cans and boxes … .
Brian: When we crush pretzels to make the chocolate-covered clusters, we sift out the crumbs and bag and sell the pretzel crumbs, like if you’re cooking, do a pretzel-crusted chicken, or put it in your hamburger instead of bread crumbs.
Do you use regular city water?
Yep, and you know what? Moving locations, changing to a different water source, you don’t know what that would do to the product. We’ve always had good results!
If your great-great grandfather came in to the bakery today, would he pretty much be able to fit in and just get to work?
Oh, sure. The only thing that was changed from when he was here is that the ovens are gas-fired instead of coal, and my dad automated (the transfer) from the main baking oven to the drying oven or kiln. The rolling room, the oven, they’re all still situated the same way.
Karen, who is the better pretzel twister, you or Brian?
(Karen): Oh, he is (laughter). I’m not bad, I’m not bad, but you know… he’s still always been the fastest.
(Brian, 10 minutes later, when he comes inside from working up on the roof of the bakery): Oh, me.
Source: Lancaster Online (http://lancasteronline.com/photovideo/tradition-with-a-twist-five-generations-of-business-as-usual/article_d0145928-067e-11e6-8954-e760510c593b.html)