Anne Beiler is best known as the founder of Auntie Anne’s, the world’s largest pretzel franchise. But behind her sunny smile lurks a hint of sadness that, at the age of 74, she has carried with her most of her adult life.
“Overcoming my tragedies, trauma and insecurities has been my greatest success,” Anne states.
A Work of Grace
”In 1975, Anne was a happily married mother of two little girls until the unthinkable happened. Her and her husband Jonas’ lives went into a tailspin when their 19-month-old daughter, Angela Joy, died tragically in a farming accident.
Anne descended into darkness and depression. She drifted apart from her husband, unable to cope with the deep pain they were both experiencing.
A lifelong devout Christian and not knowing where else to turn, Anne sought counsel from their church pastor. Instead of helping her, however, he took advantage of her broken-hearted vulnerability to manipulate and sexually assault her for more than six years. He lied to her, telling her he was the only one who truly cared about her—and she believed him.
This abuse of spiritual power propelled Anne into further intense pain and a shame that she thought would kill her. Her autobiography, Twist of Faith, shares how God worked through various circumstances to give her the strength to finally walk away from her emotional captor.
Anne confessed all of this to her husband and told him how sorry she was. Jonas was devastated and struggled with how to respond, worrying whether their marriage was salvageable.
“Then a good church friend told me, ‘If there’s any chance you can pull your marriage back together, it’s gonna be in this—that you love your wife the way Christ loves you,’ ” Jonas remembers. “That went to my soul. So, I concentrated on Christ’s love and attempted to love Anne and my family that same way. God did a work of grace in both of us. That’s why we’re still one.”
Birth of a Business
Anne and Jonas sought counselling and began their path to healing together. Surviving the repair of their marriage, Jonas found himself wanting to help others who might be suffering from the same despair and hopelessness. He determined to offer free counselling services to the community.
“You never know what’s on the other side of confession,” Anne says. “But it’s worth the risk. When Jonas was confronted with my confession, he was challenged to love me in that moment as Christ loved him. It was so personal to him that it became his journey, and he wanted to share it with others. We felt the beauty of how much Christ truly loves us.”
To support Jonas’ vision to help others, Anne bought a concession stand in 1988 at a farmers’ market in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. Her soft pretzels were a hit and Auntie Anne’s was born.
“I come from a big Amish family and had thirty-some nephews and nieces at the time!” she explains. “When our extended families were together, it seemed that everyone called me Auntie Anne.”
Walking in the Light
Out of her great pain came a great purpose to help others. Auntie Anne’s grew to more than 850 locations internationally while supporting Jonas and his team, enabling them to offer free counselling to thousands of hurting individuals. The Beilers also established the Angela Foundation, donating millions to organizations serving families, as well as Broken Silence, a ministry dedicated to helping women break free from past secrets.
In 2005, Anne sold Auntie Anne’s to go on to her next chapter: speaking to audiences on leadership, purpose and, most importantly, the power of confession to overcome darkness.
“I’ve proven it, it works!” she says. “Confession is about taking accountability and setting yourself free. The Bible tells us we can actually walk in the light as God is in the light. We can talk things out with each other and confess the things that bother us. I refuse to live any other way because it’s so much better to live in this freedom that I’m now experiencing.”
Changing the Future
Having survived those dark years when she felt she had no voice, Anne is making up for that lost time by bravely sharing her story of God’s redemptive power when we obey Him.
“After being broken and abused beyond belief, my confidence was shattered and I had no self-esteem,” she remembers. “But as I walked into forgiveness and God blessed us with Auntie Anne’s, I will tell you over the ensuing years that that company is where I grew up spiritually, emotionally and financially. It was God’s gift to me and Jonas because that’s where I began to feel once again who God created me to be. I was able to become a successful businesswoman.”
When the Beilers decided it was time to sell Auntie Anne’s, God gave them peace about who the buyer should be: a second cousin of Anne’s who had grown up in their culture and understood their values, and the franchise is still doing well. Anne is grateful to have a loving heavenly Father who guides her through every decision as she looks to Him.
“I often say that I’m here by the power of grace and one good man,” Anne states. “It’s my story for His glory, and now His glory has become my story. We cannot undo our past, but love and forgiveness will truly change our future.”