Capitol Hill’s quaint pretzel cart has an equally charming history

It’s always a pleasure to discover something new and unexpected in this city. So the pretzel cart that recently started setting up at the corner of E. Pike and 17 Ave. is sure to brighten anyone’s day.

The basket is aptly named Laugen Pretzelthe German word for lye, which is an essential ingredient when making pretzels.

If the adorable little cart doesn’t stop you in your tracks, the warm, fluffy Swabian pretzels served from it certainly will. And if that combo isn’t enough, add signature striped pants worn by the man behind the cart.

We are here to break down the three components.

First, the pretzel.

For the past two Sundays, pretzel makers Johannes Brudi and Yasmine Abassi have quietly held the corner near the TT Minor Playground. Although neither is a qualified cook, Brudi and Abassi have been around food and hospitality all their lives. And the story of their meeting is one for the books.

“We met on the street,” Brudi recalls. “I was choking on an apple and Yasmine did the Heimlich maneuver to me. I owe her my life.”

Before unrolling their cart for the delight of passers-by, they worked hard to perfect their Swabian pretzel. Which, for the discerning pretzel lover, is both a chewy and crunchy experience.

“Yasmine has studied biology and has enough lab experience to find the perfect recipe,” Brudi said. “It took dozens of batches and Yasmine filled out a composition book with notes before perfecting the Swabian pretzel.”

They say baking Swabian pretzels is a labor of love. Unlike the ubiquitous Bavarian-style pretzel, the Swabian is scored before baking, giving it crispy arms and a soft belly.

“They take a long time to manufacture due to their multiple proofing cycles,” Brudi added. “Pretzels require a specific moisture or they will go wobbly. You can get around that when you make smaller pretzels, but with the big pretzels we bake, the dough has to be perfect.”

Once the recipe was perfected, Brudi and Abassi started cooking batches in earnest. Since the hot pretzels were ready for prime time, they needed a way to get them to people.

Last summer, Brudi strolled around Capitol Hill on weekend nights with a crude cart selling pretzels. He got positive responses…and some heckling.

“At least it was better than any other job I had done during the pandemic,” Brudi recounted.

But in the long run, Brudi knew his prosaic cart would need an upgrade, something a little more special to match the pretzels they would serve.

Then the trolley.

The new improved cart was built last fall. And he is a spectator. As Brudi says, “I figured if I didn’t build it, we’d never sell pretzels.”

As bespoke as the pretzels, the cart features hand-carved cedar shingles from a demolished 100-year-old house on Capitol Hill.

To help build the cart, Brudi enlisted his brother Conrad. Musician and artist (Conrad and Johannes form the folk rock band, The Brudi brothers.) Conrad’s handiwork can be seen throughout, including the paintings of the Swabian Pretzel and Adam and Eve that adorn the carriage.

Although he does not participate in the cooking, Conrad helps where he can. You’ll likely find him a few feet from the cart with his sketchbook, “scraping” the scene. During our visit, we even saw him on a mustard run to his brother’s apartment next door.

When asked, Conrad is quick to recall one of his favorite moments while helping Abassi and his brother with the cart.

“For me, it was when a kid tried a pretzel and proclaimed, it’s better than snow!”

Finally, the striped pants.

It’s hard to miss Brudi sporting his striped pants as the cart approaches. The blue and white vertical stripes resolutely emphasize its lanky silhouette. Whether intentionally or by accident, it’s definitely a signature look.

In fact, his height may have played a part in why Brudi opted for a pretzel cart over a traditional restaurant gig.

“Local top chef David Bernhard (RIP) told me not to work in the kitchens because of my height,” Brudi noted. “That was wise advice.”

Although Brudi and Abassi call the cart one of the greatest work experiences of their lives, don’t expect to find satellite pretzel carts around Seattle anytime soon.

“We’re trying to keep a low profile because we’re just two people with an incredibly desirable product,” Brudi said. (We can confirm both of these as their line grew as we enjoyed our pretzel in the nearby sun, and they were a little shy about being the subject of this profile.) “I’d hate to ruin the only business I love by trying to exceed my abilities.”

The pretzel cart can be found occasionally on Sundays at the corner of E. Pike and 17 Ave. Brudi and Abissa serve them hot from the cart with your choice of savory or sweet toppings, including butter, honey and sauerkraut – or any combination of the three.

View Singular of Laugen Pretzel Instagram post here.

Jenise Silva is a freelance food and travel writer for Seattle Refined. Follow her on Instagram.