Dissolve sugar, salt, and yeast in 1-1/4 cups of warm water. Let sit for 5 minutes. You should see a thick foam forming by the end of five minutes.
In the bowl of your electric mixer, combine the flour and 1/2 cup melted butter. Add the yeast mixture.
Turn the mixer on low speed and mix the flour, butter, and yeast mixture. Once the flour has started to incorporate, increase the mixer speed to medium. Scrape the sides down as necessary.
Mix the dough until it forms a smooth ball of dough, 3-4 minutes. There will still be some "crumbs" of dough in the bottom of the bowl. Do not overmix - the dough will become sticky and difficult to work with.
Turn the dough (and any flour that has not yet incorporated) out onto a lightly oiled pastry mat. Knead the dough until all the flour has been incorporated, and the dough is smooth and elastic.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl. Loosely cover, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
After 1 hour, combine the baking soda and 16 cups water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Prepare two baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Lightly oil the parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
While the water is coming to a boil, shape the dough. Turn the dough out on a lightly oiled pastry mat and punch down. Using a pizza cutter, separate the dough into 8 equal portions.
Roll each portion out into a rope 16-20 inches long. Cross the ends over the center to make a pretzel shape. Place each pretzel on the oiled parchment paper.
Once the water is boiling, boil each pretzel for 30 seconds. Work with one pretzel at a time (or they will stick together). Use a flat spatula to take the pretzels out of the water. Place the boiled pretzels back on the parchment paper.