Wetzel’s Pretzels aims to make franchise ownership more accessible for women and ethnic minorities. Through the creation of its Wetzel’s Pretzels Access to Equity Program, the company hopes to create a pathway to ownership, providing financial discounts, as well as educational and mentorship opportunities to underrepresented candidates from all backgrounds.

Led by Jennifer Schuler, Wetzel’s first female chief executive officer, the initiative seeks to eliminate barriers and provide prospective franchisees with access to capital.

“While our pretzels are a delicious treat, they represent something bigger to our franchisees, and that is a dream of entrepreneurship coming to fruition,” Schuler says. “We’ve been hard at work designing this program to both level the playing field and elevate conversations within our system and across the industry about diversity and inclusion. Our franchisees make it possible to ‘Bring Pretzels to the People,’ so our top priority is providing them with the connections to capital, education and support they need to succeed.”

The Access to Equity Program provides participants with the tools and resources needed to achieve long-term success. Brandy Taylor, Wetzel’s Pretzels senior development manager, led the process to identify likeminded partners and service providers, offering candidates access to the three C’s: capital, content and community.

Capital: At its base, the Access to Equity Program offers a financial discount of 25 percent off the initial Wetzel’s franchise fee to qualified individuals who self-identify as female or as an ethnic minority. Wetzel’s is also pledging to reduce upfront equity costs and increase access to financing through partnerships with lenders such as AmPac Business Capital, Urban Strategies Inc. (USI), Capital Impact Partners, Sterns Bank, GetFranchiseCapital.com, National Development Council (NDC) and CDC Small Business Finance. Similarly, the brand also connects candidates with its insurance partner, The Viti Companies, providing fair and equitable rates on business insurance.

Content: To supplement on-the-job training, Wetzel’s has partnered with Operation HOPE and Start Small Think Big to provide business education, access to professional services and financial counseling that can help put participants on the path to small business ownership.

Community: The program includes a mentorship component, where participants are paired with existing owners, allowing them to ask questions, gain insights and have access to experts with rich brand and industry knowledge.

“Historically there’s been an inequality among those who’ve obtained managerial and ownership roles and those who have not,” Schuler says. “Our goal is to foster a more inviting environment here at Wetzel’s with ownership that reflects the diverse tapestry of the communities where we live and work. We hope our focus on this important issue will inspire others across the restaurant industry, and beyond, to join us.”