By Karen Gardner
Soft pretzel lovers have a delectable place to find these luscious snacks in downtown Hagerstown. Not only are there soft pretzels at Pretzel and Pizza Creations, at the 20 W. Washington St. location, but there’s also pizza. There are sandwiches, and hot dogs, and other foods you’d never associate with pretzels. So no one should go away from Pretzel and Pizza Creations hungry.
Hagerstown is lucky to get its own Pretzel and Pizza Creations, so people don’t have to drive to Frederick to eat from the soft pretzel-based menu.
Pretzel and Pizza Creations has been a part of Frederick since 1990. This little restaurant started in a narrow storefront as CKs Pretzel Works. Pizza wasn’t part of the menu then. Natalia and Emil Nastovici moved to Maryland from Queens, New York, in 1991. They bought CKs Pretzel Works, and renovated the small restaurant into Pretzel and Pizza Creations. Natalia continued to run the restaurant for the next 20 years.
Natalia’s daughter, Catie, now Catie Serio, grew up with the business. She was 5 when her parents bought the shop, and as Natalia found ways to expand the business, Catie was learning it, soaking it all in the way a child does.
Catie left Frederick to attend Syracuse University in New York. There, she met and married her husband, Carlo Serio. The couple stayed in New York after college, but when Natalia, now 57, wanted to slow down a bit, Catie and Carlo decided to move to Frederick to help their cousin Mihai take over the day-to-day running of the restaurant. With Natalia still around, they learned her recipes and her business sense.
At first, the restaurant used the original flour recipe developed by the original owners. Natalia then upgraded to a new flour recipe and added in a recipe for calzones. That recipe is still used today, and is a closely guarded secret. Catie and Carlo will tell you, however, that it’s made of several different types of flour which are blended in the store.
From this dough, only soft, Bavarian-style pretzels are made. They do not offer hard, Pennsylvania Dutch-style pretzels.
“What we do is take our soft pretzel dough, we hand-blend it in the store, then we use it to make pizza dough, sandwich bread, calzones,” Catie said.
Catie still admires the way her mom built the business from the ground up, nearly by herself and a few loyal employees. “She started with pretzels, and customers wanted pizza,” Catie said. “Then customers wanted sandwiches. The menu evolved over 27 years.”
Everything in the two restaurants is made fresh to order. Nearly every item on the menu was proposed by a customer at some point. Catie remembered her mom passing out samples of pretzels to people on the street, and listening to their reactions and suggestions. Calzones and pizzas were added. Natalia went to a farmer’s market and saw pretzel dogs for sale. She decided to try pretzel dough wrapped around hot dogs, and it became an instant success.
Sandwiches made entirely with bread made from pretzel dough were added. About 10 years ago, cousin Mihai decided to add late-night pizza slice service on weekend evenings, catering to those hungry from a night of downtown Frederick barhopping.
Catie and Carlo decided to add in some new hot dogs after trying hot dogs in New York made with hot spices and Greek spices. Thus, Spicy Dog and Greek Dog were introduced to the menu. Bratwursts are the latest big thing in pizza wrapped hot dogs.
About three years ago, Catie and Carlo decided to open a second Pretzel and Pizza Creations in Hagerstown, at 20 W. Washington St. For many years, Pretzel and Pizza Creations at 210 N. Market St. in Frederick had been in a neighborhood on the edge. Restaurants thrived in the blocks just south of the restaurant, but the 200 block of North Market Street was often just beyond where shoppers and diners would venture. About 15 years ago, that began to change.
“There was a time when my mom would stand in front of the store, and watch pedestrians turn around when they reached our block,” she said. “Now our block is one of the most happening blocks in Frederick.”
She sees a similar change coming to downtown Hagerstown. “It’s the next up-and-coming area,” she said. Businesses are investing in downtown, and there’s a pedestrian-friendly feel about downtown. Pretzel and Pizza Creations offers fast-casual food, which is ideal for a location that encourages pedestrians to visit the various businesses.
The Washington County Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Hagerstown were both encouraging, and offered her help to get started in Hagerstown. “It’s only going to get better,” she said. “Investors are buying up buildings, and renting them out. It’s only a matter of time.”
From breakfast sandwiches to dessert items, there’s a pretzel item for nearly everyone at the Hagerstown restaurant. There are vegetarian items and meat-laden items. Some of the most popular items are cheese pizza; Buffalo chicken pizza; turkey, cheddar and avocado sandwich; and the new stuffed pretzel-wrapped bratwurst.
Catering is another big part of the restaurant’s business. From Hagerstown to Frederick and beyond, catering is available. There’s a menu on the website, but there’s room for change. “I think it’s important to tailor each event to what the customer wants,” Catie said.
The Hagerstown location also offers trivia nights on Saturday nights, and comedy nights at the end of each month. “We have a full bar,” Catie said. “There’s a lack of entertainment options, and we decided to offer something family-friendly and exciting and casual. We want to be a part of that change.”
The next option is a food truck, Catie said. She hopes to take Pretzel and Pizza Creations on the road to the outlying areas of Hagerstown and Frederick, and possibly to some events. Managers Ernesto Menidola and Jamison Parker are listening to customers, and hope to have Pretzel and Pizza Creations be a part of downtown Hagerstown for many years to come.
Pretzel and Pizza Creations
20 W. Washington St., Hagerstown