MT 21 Gospel Driven Business: Auntie Anne's

Anne Beiler founded Auntie Anne's but firmly believes it was "God's idea."

Ministry Today commends a different group of kingdom-minded people or organizations each year in our MT21 issue. In 2014, when we launched MT21, we honored churches and ministries that were influencing the 21st-century church.

In 2015, we highlighted 21 congregations that were "culturally diverse on purpose." This year, however, we're taking a different approach and naming 21 businesses whose leaders are a witness for Christ in some way through their professional platforms. From cupcake makers to insurance agency owners to roofers, we have covered a wide range of businesses in this year's MT21 feature.

Today, we are highlighting Auntie Anne's

Anne Beiler grew up on a farm in a traditional Amish-Mennonite family in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The entrepreneur never finished high school but got her GED later in life.

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Sadly, Beiler and her husband, Jonas, were on the verge of divorce after their daughter, Angela, was killed in a farm accident in 1975 when she was only 19 months old. But their marriage was saved through counseling. Later, Beiler's husband suggested she work part time to supplement their income, so she took a job selling pretzels, which helped pay for a Christian counseling center her husband was starting. She had no idea that her pretzel sales at the farmer's market would eventually lead to starting a major company.

"I had no idea the day we opened our first Auntie Anne's that God had a grand plan in place," Beiler says. "I had one goal, and it was to make enough money to support my husband, who was passionate about helping families through counseling."

Although the pretzel dough wasn't her recipe, Beiler believes that the unexpected popularity of the pretzels was a miracle.

"We never came up with the idea of pretzels or dough," she explains. "We bought a market stand that was already making hand-rolled soft pretzels, and we just continued selling what was already on their menu."

Beiler sees Auntie Anne's as "God's idea" and believes that it is "a modern-day business miracle." With her ninth-grade education and limited business experience, Beiler didn't consider herself an entrepreneur when she started selling pretzels. But she is now a national media figure, and Auntie Anne's has grown to more than 1,700 locations worldwide from Turkey to Thailand.

"Our background was not one of intellect or savvy business experience, but we are absolutely sure that God had a plan that He wanted us to follow," says Beiler, who believes the key to the plan was that she needed to "overcome herself."

"I knew I had to overcome myself in order to keep up with the demands of a growing business," she says. "That was the most difficult of all things I did as a business owner, grow up and become mature and professional. It was painful to grow."

Beiler's faith background instilled a deep belief serving God and helping others.

"As a Christian, I feel it is impossible to keep God out of the workplace," she says. "I talked openly about God, but I also was very sensitive about my tone and my walk with God."

She prayed and asked God about being an evangelist at her company.

"What I heard as an answer to my question was, 'I want you to be salt and light,'" she says. "To be salt and light to me was to talk less and to walk straight. Light shines. It doesn't speak. I discovered that 'living the life' is more difficult than 'talking about' how to live."

In 2005, the Beilers sold Auntie Anne's to focus on building a family counseling center on a 125-acre farm in Gap, Pennsylvania. Then in 2013, they sold the center and moved to Walburg, Texas, a German farming community near Austin. An author of three books, including Twist of Faith, Beiler travels and ministers now.

She offers this advice to Christians starting a business:

"Allow God to direct you and don't depend on your education," she says. "The world has a system to follow, but God has a system to follow that is high and noble. His principles will stand the test of time. When you follow the principles in His Word, you'll find your way through every obstacle you face. Be willing to work hard, and always give God what belongs to Him financially."

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