Rick Wetzel and Bill Phelps, Wetzel’s Pretzels
Rick Wetzel and Bill Phelps were working for Nestle when the concept for Wetzel’s Pretzels was born. The two were on a business trip when Wetzel told Phelps about an idea his wife had — to make big, soft pretzels to sell at the mall. That night, they sat at a bar and drew out their business plan on napkin.
Wetzel sold his Harley Davidson to help raise funds for the fledgling business, which they started in their spare time. They brought in a partner to help create the recipe in Phelps’ kitchen, and when it came time to open shop they persuaded a mall landlord to come to the house to try their creation. The landlord liked what he tasted and rented Wetzel’s Pretzels its first store.
That was 1994. About a year later, Wetzel and Phelps got their lucky break when they were offered a severance package from Nestle. They opened up several more stores before deciding to franchise in 1996. There are now 250 stores nationwide, with locations set to open in Japan and India this year. System-wide sales are more than $100 million and same-store sales were up 9 percent in 2011.
Terry Finley, West Point Thoroughbreds
Terry Finley was finishing his military service in 1990 when he and his wife, Debbie, bought a $5,000 horse. The horse, named Sunbelt, won its first race, and Finley was hooked. He quit his insurance job and took a chance on his passion. Armed with credit cards and personal savings, he started West Point Thoroughbreds with his wife.
“Taking what you love to do and making a profession out of it is so much better than just working to make a living,” Finley says .
West Point Thoroughbreds now buys 20 to 25 horses a year, forming groups of investors who can profit when the horses win, breed and sell. Since 2007, its horses have won more than 20 percent of their races, with purses totaling more than $16 million and counting. Annual sales are near $7 million.
Dana Sinkler and Alex Dzieduszycki, Terra Chips
Dana Sinkler and Alex Dzieduszycki were working for star chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten at his four-star restaurant, Lafayette, in New York when they decided to strike out on their own and start a catering business. They were looking to create a signature dish to serve at the bar, since it’s the place people first visit at a party. But they wanted something different from the elaborate crudité platters that were popular at the time. So in 1990, they experimented with frying different vegetable roots in the kitchen of Sinkler’s tiny apartment and struck gold.
The vegetable chips were a hit, and soon the pair brought Terra Chips into stores. In 1995, a private equity group bought 51 percent of the company, and in 1998 Hain Celestial bought Terra Chips as part of an $80 million bundle deal that included three other companies. At the time, Dzieduszycki says, Terra Chips had $23 million in annual sales.
Sinkler and Dzieduszycki have moved on to new ventures. Sinkler has started a new restaurant called Hubee D’s. Dzieduszycki began Julian’s Recipe, a frozen waffle line.
Adam Lowry and Eric Ryan, Method
Photo: MethodAdam Lowry was working as a climate scientist and Eric Ryan was in advertising when they decided to leave their jobs to develop the environmentally friendly cleaning product company, Method. At the time there weren’t many choices when it came to cleaning products that didn’t contain harsh chemicals. So the two childhood friends did their research, and Lowry even mixed chemicals in the sink of their apartment. They maxed out their credit cards, scrounged together $200,000 from family and friends and started Method in 2000.
Method has become one of the fastest-growing private companies in America, with over 100 products — from hand soaps to dish soaps to bathroom cleaners. The company has gross revenue north of $100 million.
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