Shawnee Mission Faces: Dot Henke, professional pretzel mixer and summit seeker

The founder of Dot’s Homestyle Pretzels in Lenexa is in constant search of the “wow” factor, whether it’s a newly crafted pretzel flavor or a beautiful vista at the top of a mountain. Dot Henke started her pretzel business in 2012 in North Dakota and has since expanded operations in Lenexa as well as Goodyear, Arizona. Dot’s has doubled in size every year since year one, now processing 200 tons of pretzels a week. While Henke’s home remains on the family farm in North Dakota, she spends much of her time overseeing research and development on future pretzel flavors and spreading the good word about her business, especially in Lenexa. When she and her husband, Randy (Mr. Dot) Henke (pictured right) are not at work or helping their son on the farm, they go hiking together to enjoy the view at each summit. The couple has three adult children — Stacey, Blake and Eric — and one granddaughter, Tianna.

My big thing is reactions. Going to a show and the first reactions that people have when they taste it, sometimes they’re just so cool. They pick it up and they taste it and then their heads go what the heck, and they look at your booth and they just kind of go, wow, and that’s what has kept us going so often.

Businesses don’t always just keep running smoothly. It’s just like a roller coaster. But you know, when you always get to that, you think oh god, I retired, why am I doing this? And the thing that always comes back is the reactions and the stories.

There was a sales rep, he called me and he says, oh Dot, he goes, is there any way you can get me a bunch of sample bags (‘cause we have the real little ones), I’m going to a meeting, there’s going to be like 50 to 100 guys and women. And he said — because you know, he knew what the taste was — it’ll be so much fun for me when they open up that bag, when I show them this product and look at their reactions of what they’re going to do.

There’s people like that that made my company grow because they had the enthusiasm.

I was at a wedding in Max, North Dakota. They had this butter spinzel in there. They had the rice Chex, the wheat Chex, the corn Chex. They had rye bread in there. They had nuts in there. They had this all mixed up in a big bowl, and it was really quite spicy, but I really liked that butter spinzel that was in there. And so I went searching for that. I found it at Menard’s, it was in a plastic container and I just started messing around just like I do everything else.

I have many recipes that I tweak, I always say for my husband because I’d buy something and then I’d go tweak it. That’s just what I do.

We had this (recipe) for family, that I just did, you know, for special occasions. And the one time this happened, the Christmas of 2011, a relative down in Arizona, she wanted something fun. So I made little bags, put a red bow on it and she gave them out to her clients and her phone rang off the hook. And then when I came back to North Dakota, I contacted The Pride of Dakota because that’s an organization in North Dakota that helps small business entrepreneurs.

I went to one of their shows. They happened to have one in May of 2012. It was just amazing, maybe they didn’t buy right away, but after he (Randy) was done paddle fishing, he came and he just sat and watched my booth and people would go around and God dang it, if they didn’t go in their back pocket or in their purse and buy a bag. That was the first time that we knew that this could get really crazy.

This is something we never anticipated. It was definitely not a goal. Definitely was not. I was going to retire and help my husband farm, but this came. We just decided life’s kind short sometimes. When this came, how do you not keep going?