To set a twisted story straight, St. Louis has stick-shaped pretzels because Frank Rampsberger got his eye knocked out.

Frank, a riveter in the early 1920s, started to bake and sell pretzels as a way to make ends meet after his manufacturing injury. Before business took off and became what is now known affectionately as Gus’ Pretzels, Frank’s pretzels were sold in stick form so the snack stuck out of its bag. Traditionally shaped pretzels were a harder sell for vendors, as the folds of the pretzels were low and customers couldn’t see exactly what they were buying.

Gus Koebbe Jr. is Frank Rampsberger’s grandson and the third to carry out the family business, Gus’ Pretzels. The shop on Arsenal Street is a staple to many in St. Louis, serving not only as a store that sells quality food, but a business that’s as much a part of the community as dough is in the pretzels.

“I was weaned on pretzels,” Gus Jr. says. “When my mom and dad had it, we’d be sitting in a high chair or a play pen and they’d shove a pretzel in our mouth instead of a pacifier. I can honestly say I’ve never been sick of pretzels.”

When he was just twenty-three years old in 1980, Gus Jr. bought the business from his father, Gus Sr.

Gus Sr. hold his daughter with hundreds of pretzels in front of them. Photo courtesy Gus’ Pretzels.

“When I walked in the door, I was the only employee,” Gus Jr. says. The retail back then wasn’t what it is today. But after enlisting the help of his younger brother—Gus is one of seven children—he got his family recipe into the grocery stores. In 1998, retail took off with an addition to the building formerly focused on baking. In addition to wholesale customers, individuals were now coming in to buy pretzels. Gus’ Pretzels now has sixteen employees.

The business model is simple enough: stick to the family recipe, stay authentic, make your own dough, hand twist your own pretzels—a process customers are able to watch as they visit the store.

The business has been a journey, Gus says. “It kind of guided us. We never really had a plan—kind of an unorthodox way of doing it, but it worked for us.” 

The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of Gus’ Pretzels—started by riveter Rampsberger, picked up by Gus Sr., headed these days by Gus Jr., and—very soon—owned by Gus III. The youngest Gus does a lot of the work, Gus says, including coming in at 5 AM to start the ovens and prep the dough. Gus Jr. also has a daughter, Allison, who works in human resources and helps out with the marketing. Suzanne Koebbe, Gus’ wife, is in the shop every day and is an integral part of daily operations.

To celebrate their centennial, Gus’ Pretzels wanted to give back to the community. They gave one hundred local organizations one hundred pretzels each. Staying involved with the community and making memories with customers are the things Gus Jr. is most proud of, and a reason he loves his business. 

Another reason is the taste of a pretzel.