By FRED KRONER
Dan and Dayna Perkins’ home-based business is operational. Not so much the business name.
Mahomet’s Dan Perkins, the mastermind behind a local pretzel-making venture, originally intended to call it “Ph.D. Pretzels,” as sort of a takeoff for a person who has earned his doctorate.
When family members set up a booth at last Friday’s Mahomet Farmer’s Market, along Main Street, the signage — courtesy of 16-year-old son Micah — referred to it as “Perkins Pretzels.”
“There is debate on how that will go,” Dan Perkins said. “We’re a family of six that’s split, 3-3. We need the cat or the dog to be the tiebreaker.”
Originally from Nevada, Dan Perkins has degrees from colleges in Utah, Indiana and Florida.
Before the family relocated to Mahomet nearly four years ago, they had lived in North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
“Philadelphia has pretzel places everywhere,” Dayna Perkins said. “The only place here to get them is at the mall and they are nothing like theirs.”
That provided her husband food for thought.
“Here, there were no option for pretzels,” he said. “I thought, ‘How hard can it be?’ The ingredients are pretty basic (flour, water, yeast, butter) and I have the ingredients.
“I looked up how to do it. Not having an option to buy one forced me to make them.”
It took about two hours to make a batch and the budding entrepreneur was pleased by what he witnessed.
“It was a very rewarding experience,” Dan Perkins said. “I saw the results and they were light and fluffy. I could see the process involving my family.”
At first glance, the task seemed simple.
“When I looked at the recipe, I thought, ‘Is that all it is,’ “ he said. “Then I read the directions and said, ‘This is an actual commitment.’
“The product is simple, but it’s complicated to make. It’s like life: simple on the outside, but a lot of complexity.”
Though Dan Perkins doesn’t consider himself a chef, he said food is something that draws the family together.
“I can make the basic ‘dad foods,’ “ he said. “My wife is a great cook, and we have family meals.
“Food is one thing we’ve used to help the family sit down together.”
Making unique pretzels — those of a bow tie variety — provided a similar opportunity.
“We’d roll pretzels together and talk about whatever we talk about,” Dan Perkins said. “I enjoy the process. I like to see something happen start to finish.”
Opening a side business was a “back-burner dream,” said Perkins, adding, ”I’ve always liked watching Food Network shows.”
The Farmer’s Market served as an ideal starting venue for the Perkins.
“It fit well with the scale of our production,” Dan Perkins said. “We’re learning how to be prepared. I don’t know where we’ll go from here.”
The family sells their pretzels for $4 apiece. Thus far, they have produced salted ones as well as some with cinnamon and sugar.
“We have ideas and we’re experimenting,” Dan Perkins said. “We’d like to try bacon bits, but we’re not ready to go to market with it yet.”
There are limits to how many changes the Perkins’ will introduce.
“It’s a matter of experimenting what goes on it,” Dan Perkins said. “We’d like to preserve the pretzel.
“You don’t want to eat one every day, but when you do, you want it to be a pretzel. You don’t need to get too fancy.”
Ironically, Dan Perkins didn’t consider pretzels a priority in his youth.
“I don’t know if I was a big fan growing up,” he said. “I thought they were kind of hard and tough.”
The family’s pretzels are the opposite.
“I wanted something light,” Dan Perkins said. “Very soft. Very bready. This recipe is a mix of French bread and a bagel.
“They turned out the way I liked them.”
By day, Dan Perkins is the manager and lead hydrologist at Waterborne Environmental’s Champaign office. His company is involved with agriculture research.
He didn’t predict this career path a decade ago.
“Ten years ago, if anyone had told me I’d be doing anything I’m doing today, I wouldn’t have believed them,” he said. “Our moves have been job-driven.
“We moved for the right fit, where the kids could succeed, where my job could succeed. We landed where we needed to be.”
The pretzel-making is a nice change of pace.
“It’s just fun,” he said.
Family members pitch in.
Fourteen-year-old Meadow Perkins handled much of the production last week.
“She’s my baker and prep help,” Dan Perkins said.
The teenager, who will be a high school freshman in August, doesn’t mind.
I look forward to doing it,” she said. “We made them for fun for a while.”
Dayna Perkins, a teacher’s aide at Lincoln Trail Elementary School, has her favorite job.
“I like to roll out the dough,” she said.
Micah Perkins, a junior-to-be at Mahomet-Seymour, handles advertising and artwork.
Canyon Perkins, a recent M-S graduate, will study business and finance in the fall at Utah State University. Incoming sixth-grader Bryton Perkins missed last week’s event while attending a scouting camp, but will have a role as well.
There are more workers than available equipment.
“We have one small mixer and it’s running for two hours,” Dan Perkins said.
He wouldn’t be surprised to see others follow his family’s lead.
“Anyone could pick it up,” he said. “There’s no real magic.”
One thing that has helped set the Perkins’ pretzels apart is the use of a local flour from Arthur.
“There’s a property to it that’s not common,” Dan Perkins said. “It turned out beneficial for pretzels. It turned out to be a nice, happy accident.”
While the family’s business name is still unsettled, those who have enjoyed their pretzels might be inclined to throw a variation into the ring for consideration.
“Pretzels, highly delicious,” or for those who prefer an identification by letters, simply Ph.D.