When two-year-old Barbara Lawson runs ahead of her parents as they make their way back from an outing, they don’t worry she’ll get lost. The toddler knows exactly what symbol marks the door of their South Philly row home. Even so, mom and dad sometimes call out a reminder as she takes off down the sidewalk:
“Look for the house with the pretzel!”
“The pretzel” in question is small — but imminently noticeable. It’s not an edible one, but a metal replica, a gold-plated twist that stretches just four inches in width. Whether in sun or twilight, it glints with an unmissable salty wink from the sidewalk next to the Lawsons’ front step.
In the three months it’s been embedded in concrete, the pretzel has attracted the attention of neighbors, passersby and Instagram fans. The Lawsons put it there almost on a whim, but they now feel it’s part of their identity.
“We consider a pretzel our family crest,” said Randi Lawson, Barbara’s mother.
Randi isn’t originally from the Philadelphia area, but her husband Mike is a West Chester native, and pretzels have always been his favorite food. “When we moved here about 15 years ago,” she said, “I realized how much a part of the culture pretzels are.”
Convincing her to live in Philly wasn’t the easiest trick, she noted. The couple met at American University in Washington DC, and after graduation Randi got a plum job in her chosen field of graphic design. But Mike had always planned to move back to the city and open a recording studio with his best buddy. So he brought the full court press.
“He was trying to sell me on ‘Philly’s awesome,’” Randi said. “He took me to every cool restaurant, every great sight. By the time we moved here, I was really in love with the city.”
Mike’s dream of opening a recording studio did happen; he runs the well-respected Sine Studios in Rittenhouse. Together with Randi, who does product design and moonlights as a standup comedian, he also operates an indie record label called The Giving Groove, which has a philanthropic bent. With each of their artists — which include bands from the world-famous Dead Milkmen to newcomers Joey Sweeney & the Neon Grease — they decide on a music-related nonprofit. Half of after-tax proceeds from all releases go to the performers, and half are donated to the chosen charitable organization.
“We’re now at a point where we’re contributing to the city and arts scene,” Randi said. “I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.”
As they established themselves in Philadelphia, pretzels continued to loom large in the Lawsons’ life. The couple’s late hairless cat was named Pretzel, and was well-known at block parties for her namesake contortionist acts.
The sidewalk pretzel crest “is partly a memorial to her,” Randi said — albeit a last-minute one.
It was a sewer issue that instigated the whole thing, she explained. “A gnarly septic problem” ended up requiring that the sidewalk in front of their house be ripped up. After coming to terms with the fact that they’d have to fork over a few thousand dollars to get it replaced, the Lawsons saw a silver lining.
As Leuzzi Brothers workers were making their final pours, the Lawsons discussed decorative options to insert their family crest somehow. They could draw a pretzel in the cement — but they wanted something more unique.
“I have just the thing!” Mike said with a flash of remembrance. He dug up the gold-plated pretzel bottle opener, purchased as a stocking stuffer years ago from Open House on 13th Street. With the Leuzzi workers’ help, he pressed it carefully into the corner of one square, and let the sidewalk harden around it.
Boom, the house with the pretzel bling was born. The Lawsons are a bit worried it might pop out during the winter, but they’re comforted by knowing that at least the impression will remain.
“At first we hated having to redo the sidewalk,” Randi admitted. “Now we say it was totally worth it.”