Celebrate National Pretzel Day with a traditional German pastry from Reinecker’s Bakery

MACEDONIA, Ohio – Soft, salty, and downright delicious, a big doughy pretzel is a popular snack — a standard in Northeast Ohio’s county fairs, movie theaters and sports stadiums, or at your favorite watering hole. Besides beer and sausages – Brezeln or Brezen – as they are known in Germany — may just be that country’s greatest contribution to the American food scene.

Fresh baked hot pretzel from Reinecker’s Bakery located at 8575 S Fwy Dr. in Macedonia – Photo by Yadi Rodriguez, cleveland.com

Soft inside, with a bread-like chewy texture, the deep brown outside comes from bathing the dough in a baking soda solution before baking.

Reinecker's Bakery

Pretzels dipped in a lye solution bath before being sprinkled with salt and baked at Reinecker’s Bakery located at 8575 S Fwy Dr. in Macedonia – Photo by Yadi Rodriguez, cleveland.com

The true origins of the pretzel remain a mystery, though some believe it evolved from a Pope in Roman times who created the baked good for Easter. The three holes, created by the twisted dough, are thought to symbolize the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Reinecker's Bakery

This is how you make a hot pretzels from scratch at Reinecker’s Bakery located at 8575 S Fwy Dr. in Macedonia – Photo by Yadi Rodriguez, cleveland.com

To honor National Pretzel Day — celebrated each year on April 26 — cleveland.com’s Best of Cleveland team visited Reinecker’s Bakery, in Macedonia, where three siblings – Heidi, Caroline and Rick – still make pretzels the same way their German immigrant parents taught them, by hand.

Reinecker's Bakery

Siblings Caroline, Heidi and Rick Reinecker of Reinecker’s Bakery located at 8575 S Fwy Dr. in Macedonia – Photo by Yadi Rodriguez, cleveland.com

If you have attended Kristallnacht commemorations in Hudson or Octoberfest celebrations in Zoar, you have likely enjoyed a Reinecker’s pretzel.

Magdelena Reinecker brought back the recipe to her master baker husband, Richard, from a trip to visit family in southern Germany. Already an established European bakery on the East Side of Cleveland, the pretzels were quickly incorporated into the family-run business’ offerings.

Reinecker's Bakery

This machine cuts the dough into 36 equal parts before they are rolled out into individual pretzels at Reinecker’s Bakery – Photo by Yadi Rodriguez, cleveland.com

Today, the Reineckers still mix, hand-roll, shape, and bake about 150 pretzels each Thursday morning. The popularity of their creations is evidenced by the line at the back door of their bakery, where they sell them for $1.50 each.

Get there much after noon, and you may be out of luck.

Reinecker's Bakery

Hand rolling pretzels at Reinecker’s Bakery – Photo by Yadi Rodriguez, cleveland.com

We arrived just in time to watch the three working the last batch of dough that Richard had started that morning at 4 am Like typical siblings, the three snatched balls of dough, rolled them and twisted them into knots, laughing and chiding each other about whose pretzels were shaped best.

Reinecker's Bakery

A tray of hot pretzels ready to rest before going into the oven from Reinecker’s Bakery located at 8575 S Fwy Dr. in Macedonia – Photo by Yadi Rodriguez, cleveland.com

Once all the pretzels were shaped, they are placed on special trays, while the Reineckers rest from their “sibling competition.”

After the dough has rested for 30 minutes, the pretzels are dipped into a food-grade lye solution that – once baked – produces a deep brown, shiny color and “intensifies the pretzel flavor” according to Caroline.

“We only make what we know we can sell each Thursday morning because we make them from scratch and they have no conditioners in them keep the bread soft, so after a couple of hours, they will begin to get crusty,” she explained. “If you buy them and want to eat them the next day, they need to be frozen.”

Reinecker's Bakery

These pretzels are ready to go in the oven at Reinecker’s Bakery located at 8575 S Fwy Dr. in Macedonia – Photo by Yadi Rodriguez, cleveland.com

Caroline said a few minutes in a traditional oven will bring back the soft chewiness.

While Thursday is traditionally ‘pretzel day’ at the bakery, Reinecker’s will take special orders for any day, except Mondays and Tuesdays when they bake their breads at a much higher temperature.

Reinecker's Bakery

Fresh baked hot pretzel from Reinecker’s Bakery located at 8575 S Fwy Dr. in Macedonia – Photo by Yadi Rodriguez, cleveland.com

When asked about the easy companionship, Heidi explained, “We have all been working together in the bakery since we were about five years old, though, truth be told, we have all been here since we were toddlers, helping our parents with whatever job that needed to be done that us little kids could handle.”

Today, the three Reinecker children produce everything they sell, using the same recipes their father used at the original bakery on E. 82nd Avenue and Sewinsky Street, in Cleveland. Richard Reinecker relocated the family – and the business — to Macedonia in the early 1970s.

The land he purchased was once an apple orchard, where he built a bakery and the family home. When I-271 went in, running just a few thousand yards in front of the bakery, Richard found himself at odds with the industrial zoning – which would not allow the family to operate a store in the front of the bakery. T

o get around that, Richard sold baked goods out the back door of the bakery. His children continue to sell to walk-in customers the same way their father did – as well as sell their breads and pastries to Heinen’s and Giant Eagle locations in Greater Cleveland, and to small local specialty grocers.

Reinecker's Bakery

Fresh bread from Reinecker’s Bakery located at 8575 S Fwy Dr. in Macedonia – Photo by Yadi Rodriguez, cleveland.com

Their most popular product remains their European rye bread – baked from the same recipes Richard used to start his bakery.

They also ship nationwide – advertising only by word of mouth and in the Nordonia High School football programs, and in two German-language national publications. The bakery’s regular baked goods are listed on its website. Daily specials are announced on their Facebook page.

Reinecker's Bakery

Reinecker’s Bakery located at 8575 S Fwy Dr. in Macedonia – Photo by Yadi Rodriguez, cleveland.com

What is the future for this family-owned and operated business? For now, Heidi, Caroline and Rick – all in their 50s — are content to keep baking. They raised Caroline’s children on the bakery floor, though they have moved on to other careers.

“We don’t know at this point,” said Heidi, who looked across the bakery at her young niece, icing cupcakes. “We are all still too young to think about retiring – but there is always the next generation. So, there is hope.”

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