Eastern Standard Provisions was born on a Red Sox Opening Day, a day when thoughts turn almost as naturally to pretzels as they do to beer and baseball. As drinks flowed and snacks were savored, an idea—making high-quality pretzels that are a legitimate partner to the craft beer movement—coalesced into a company.
“This didn’t happen in a boardroom somewhere,” says Garrett Harker, co-founder of Eastern Standard Provisions. “This idea was born in the shadow of Fenway Park.”
Perhaps that’s why the pretzels are so good—even Oprah Winfrey is a fan. She named the company’s chewy, pillowy bread creations one of her favorite things in 2019, a mere six months after the company rolled its first knots out to customers.
The accolades come as no surprise to those of us on the North Shore. Harker is one of the partners in the Island Creek restaurant group, long known for high-quality eats, and for this enterprise he has collaborated with Lauren Moran, whose Honeycomb bakery-café in Hamilton has been causing patrons to swoon over double chocolate brownies and turmeric sugar cookies since it arrived on the scene in 2017.
Before opening her bakery, Moran was executive pastry chef for the Hotel Commonwealth and all the restaurants inside that Kenmore Square spot: Island Creek Oyster Bar, The Hawthorne, and Eastern Standard. The pretzel she had developed as a bar snack at The Hawthorne was the inspiration for Harker’s pretzel plan, so he brought her on board to create a version that could be produced on a large scale.
After doing some experimentation at Honeycomb, Moran reached pretzel nirvana. “The dough is very much made in the style of how you would make bread hundreds of years ago,” she says.
The basics are pretty straightforward. The dough has minimal ingredients—just flour, water, and yeast, with a touch of turbinado raw sugar and some malt syrup. “It was very important to us that the dough be completely natural,” Moran says, noting that many commercial pretzels and other bread products are made with chemicals that speed the baking process and preservatives that allow the bread to last for a long time on the shelf.
Eastern Standard’s pretzels are flash-frozen after baking, so they need to be kept refrigerated or frozen until they get a quick refresh in the oven. The result is a pretzel that tastes fresh-baked, whether you serve it up at home or order it in a taproom or restaurant.
“I think that’s Lauren’s gift—she is able to translate an artisanal, soulful product into something that a larger-scale bakery could produce with the same values,” Harker says.
That gift was pressed into overdrive when the company found out they would be included in Oprah’s Favorite Things last December. After many years of experience, the media queen’s staff has learned to give a heads-up to folks who will be featured; they even offered some predictions about what kind of sales bump the fledgling pretzel company could expect. Hint: it was pretty big.
While Eastern Standard had a commercial bakery in New York producing the pretzels, the high-touch process meant that location could only ramp up so far. So ensuring they had a website to handle the volume and searching for a second bakery to augment production were at the top of their list.
The result was all that they had hoped and more. The pretzel even made its way to ABC’s Good Morning America, where host Michael Strahan enjoyed one live, with a dusting of the company’s truffle salt.
This spring, with the spotlight toned down, the partners are hoping to convert Oprah fans to permanent pretzel fans—as well as steadily grow their New England base. The pretzel is available freshly baked at Market Basket locations that have a deli section, as well as at a number of local craft breweries, including Notch Brewery in Salem, Riverwalk Brewing in Newburyport, and True North Ale Company in Ipswich.
For more information, visit esprovisions.com.