Pretzel-design wasn't originally a business for Leah Bernabei, who teaches in New City. At first it was a hobby—or a passion, really.
"But then at family events and parties with friends people started expecting the pretzels," said Bernabei, a third-grade teacher at the closing Hebrew Day School in New City.
Everyone's anticipation of the almost-too-pretty-to-eat, crunchy treats motivated her to get a business certificate last spring and launch "Knotty & Nice Pretzels."
A lifelong artist, Bernabei designed her own website and business cards, so—in addition to designing lesson plans for eight year olds—the young teacher found herself envisioning pretzel platters for birthday parties, baby showers and holiday parties.
Her biggest order so far was 150 party favors—with two or three pretzels a piece—for a baby shower for a woman who knew she was having a boy.
"They were light blue with white decorations, and all individually-wrapped," she said. "I also did a princess party for a little girl, with pretzels that were different shades of pink and white."
An art major at Muhlenberg College with a Masters Degree in art and elementary education from Manhattanville, Bernabei thinks her creativity is useful both for her business and in the classroom.
"I think about everything visually," said the Tarrytown resident. "For example, I'd never put blue chocolate with a peanut butter pretzel; the colors clash. My mind just instantly sees that. I want the colors to blend. That's what makes you want to eat them."
Bernabei is disappointed that the small private school—where she's worked for only one year—is closing for many reasons; but one of the biggest disappointments is that administrators there saw her art background as an asset.
"I know other schools saw my majoring in art as not 'academic enough,' but I think with little kids being able to present things visually is invaluable."
She says she tries to be creative when planning activities, using lots of visual representations of math problems or even reading assignments.
"It definitely benefits the kids."
Bernabei is not looking forward to the difficult road of finding a job as a teacher, but she's excited that her small pretzel business is taking off. She's even looking into selling them in local shops.
"Every time I pass a bakery that has pretzels, I think, 'There's nothing special about these,'" she said. "Mine are so personalized."
Bernabei starts with a regular mid-sized Snyder's pretzel and dips them in chocolate and other goodies like peanut butter, cookies and nonpareils.
Flavor varieties include: peanut butter chip, cookies and cream, S'mores and chocolate with sprinkles. They come in all different colors with varied and exquisite designs. Bernabei can make pretzels as platters or in decorative bags.
"The company started via word of mouth," she said. "First friends, then friends of friends, and then I was getting calls from people I didn't even know."
She thinks her social media savvy has also helped her company, posting pictures of decadent batches on facebook regularly. (Author's note: that's how I found her!).
Bernabei will deliver her pretzels anywhere within Westchester and Rockland counties.
"It's rare to be able to make a business out of something you love to do," she said. "Sometimes I still think of it as a hobby, and then I remember that people pay me for them. That's an amazing feeling."