WINFIELD – The holidays have passed, and as the cold weather continues on in its wintry bleakness, those looking for somewhere to warm up can head to Gnarly Knots Pretzel Company in Winfield.
The cozy restaurant provides quick grab-and-go options, including various pretzels and soups.
After opening in May 2013, Gnarly Knots has grown increasingly in popularity, thanks in large part to word of mouth and social media.
While things can get a little crazy, the experience has been a positive one for owners Matt Finn and Funi McLoughlin.
“We love it,” said Finn, who grew up in Lombard.
Finn and McLoughlin became friends after meeting in Seattle while working at the same restaurant. Both have years of experience in the food business as bartenders and servers, but their idea for opening their own place came from missing the bread of their hometowns.
What Finn and McLoughlin found in Seattle was artisan bread, rather than the softer breads of Chicago and Philadelphia, where McLoughlin grew up.
While the idea for a sandwich shop was first considered, the pair settled on pretzels after McLoughlin created mini pretzel sandwiches as part of an Iron Chef competition with friends. After that, the pretzel experiments began, yielding the recipe for golden, fluffy perfection that has proven so popular with local residents.
After Finn and McLoughlin moved to the Chicago area to establish their pretzel business, they started out at the Downers Grove Farmers
Market before moving into their brick-and-mortar location in Winfield.
In addition to offering salted, cheese-topped and cinnamon sugar pretzels daily, Gnarly Knots also stuffs its pretzels with different ingredients each day, from pepperoni pizza on Monday to barbecue brisket on Wednesday. The menu also includes daily soups.
“It’s so different,” McLoughlin said. “It’s not anything they can get anywhere else.”
Since opening May 13, Gnarly Knots has sold about 25,000 pretzels, Finn said.
The owners have done little advertising, but word has spread anyway. One of the biggest proponents of Gnarly Knots has been the Wheaton Moms Facebook group.
The group is made up of mothers from Wheaton and the surrounding area who share information with each other. Winfield mom Kristin Paxton decided to check out Gnarly Knots with her twin 5-year-old boys after hearing about it through the group.
“For me as a mom, I like it because it’s quick and fast, and I know my kids are going to love it,” Paxton said.
Paxton has been to Gnarly Knots about five times, and the pretzels themselves are what turned her family into return customers.
“There’s something magical in those pretzels,” she said.
The owners keep their offerings fresh by changing up their daily stuffed pretzels and soups by the season, providing fall and winter, and spring and summer menus. The menu was modified at the end of November and will be changed again in May.
Gnarly Knots also has its own line of pretzel chips, which are available at the restaurant itself, Blackberry Market in Glen Ellyn and other locations.
The Winfield hot spot continues to fill up with new customers. There is a line out the door ever Saturday, when Gnarly Knots offers a different stuffed pretzel every week to gauge the popularity for possible inclusion on future menus, the owners said.
Although in the beginning Finn and McLoughlin worried whether anyone would know they were there – tucked away in a small house near Central DuPage Hospital – that fear only served to push them harder.
“It just made us that much more obsessed with making the perfect soup and the perfect pretzel,” McLoughlin said.
And by the number of pretzels they’ve sold, that obsession has served them well.
Check out Gnarly Knots
Where: 27W570 High Lake Road in Winfield
Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday
Learn more: www.gnarlyknots.com or 630-473-0439