Inside a little storefront beside a busy Revere roundabout is something that would make any Eagles fan a little salty: a yeast-risen soft pretzel shrine to Tom Brady and the Patriots.
That’s because the owner of New England’s only Philly Pretzel Factory franchise and the first emissary of real Philadelphia-style soft pretzels in Greater Boston is a lifelong Patriots fan.
Bob Gesek spent 20 years in Philadelphia, where he worked as a chef. He fielded taunts about the tuck rule, Spygate, and Deflategate, and feasted on yeast-raised pretzels with a browned, semi-firm crust. Pretzel Factory locations — there are hundreds around Philly — open early, and people stop in for a breakfast pretzel. Imagining Fred the Baker muttering “Time to make the pretzels” is like crossing into another dimension, but that’s pretty much the reality.
“They’re like Dunkin Donuts — every corner you turn is a Philly Pretzel Factory,” Gesek said.
So when Gesek, 56, moved back home to Revere a couple years ago, he knew what he wanted to do.
“Fried clams and lobster rolls? There’s 50,000 of them,” Gesek said. But there were no decent Philadelphia pretzels. Philly Pretzel Factory wasn’t franchising at the time, so Gesek went with the next best thing. “I was going to open a cheesesteak place,” he said.
Philadelphia cheesesteaks are rightly renowned. But Greater Boston makes a pretty darn good steak and cheese, too — the best of which, at places like Ethel & Andy’s or Rondo’s Sub Shop in Southie — are different but every bit as good as some of Philly’s perennial top picks.
Luckily for Gesek, by the time he found a location, Philly Pretzel Factory was looking to expand. He opened on Squire Road, right on a busy rotary, about a year ago, quickly discovering that the North Shore commuters flying by weren’t quite ready for breakfast pretzels and adjusting his hours accordingly.
The first year has been a little rocky.
Party platters do pretty well, but people don’t quite grasp that they can’t pick them up days in advance — the pretzels are baked every few hours and sold fresh.
Philadelphia transplants kept him going early on, driving alarming distances to order hundreds of pretzels. That helped, because while the pretzels are ominpresent in Philadelphia, here they are mostly associated with that blue-and-white butter distribution system in the mall.
Some, unfamiliar with the chain and confused by a location that could pass for industrial, thought it was actually a factory. Even his insurance company sent him a five-figure bill for workman’s compensation coverage, assuming he was running some sort of hard-hats-and-heavy-machines pretzel operation.
And the location, though it has huge numbers of cars going past daily, can be tricky. Pulling into the small parking lot entails swinging through a hugely busy American Legion Highway rotary in traffic that is often crazed and slipping into a driveway positioned between Squire Road and Broadway.
“It’s love or hate — some people say it’s the best,” Gesek said. “And then you got the other people who say, ‘What’d you open on a rotary for?’ ”
Gesek is hoping the Super Bowl might goose business a bit. He’s gotten a lot of calls for party platters, and got himself onto a local Eagles fan Facebook group. He was up front about his fandom — he’s wearing Patriots gear in his Twitter picture and the shop’s Facebook page isn’t shy about showing off the owner’s allegiance. They asked if he was an undercover evil agent.
Despite the game on Sunday, Gesek is hard-pressed to see much in the way of a rivalry between two cities he loves.
“They’re working-class cities, their sports fans have the same passion — that’s why I stayed there for 20 years,” Gesek said.
And besides, his daughter still lives there. Is she an Eagles fan or Patriots fan?
“She’s a Jimmy Garoppolo fan,” Gesek said.
Who could blame her?Nestor Ramos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos.