The first time Ben and Shar took Maile and I to visit Victoria Station, we were standing around trying to get traffic counts to use in our business plan. Problem was, there were too many people to count.
Maile also got pooped on by a pigeon. I had gone to the bathroom and when I came back she was standing in the middle of the concourse, arms outspread, shaking her head back and forth in disbelief. She even had a little on her face.
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The entire station smells like baking bread or coffee or sewage, depending on your proximity to various food stands and restrooms dotted throughout. There are five Starbucks in Victoria Station. This picture is of the small half of the station.
And 10 million travelers pass through Victoria Station…each month. It was the Heathrow Airport of train stations.
Yet somehow Ben managed to persuade the management team at Network Rail that two 20-somethings could open and operate an Auntie Anne’s Soft Pretzel stand in the middle of one of their busiest stations.
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When our shipment of pretzel stuff arrived from the States, we couldn’t find a bay large enough to give the truck access. So we persuaded the driver to park on the street – I think one of us even promised we would pay the ticket if he got one. Then came the tedious process of unloading: pallet after pallet after pallet was lowered to the ground floor, (slightly illegally) carted through busy Victoria Station (after midnight it is still a bustling place), and deposited in an area they gave us for storage. Every time we rolled past the station manager he would shake his head disapprovingly, but we never stopped to discuss.
We didn’t know it at the time, but those pallets of flour would become our beds in the coming weeks, when 30 consecutive days of working 5am – midnight began taking their toll.
30 pallets in all, each weighing hundreds of pounds. We were exhausted. And exhilarated. And still waiting for all of our final permits.
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Sometime in April, 2002, the store was completed. Everything was ready…except our general contractor had messed up on getting us access to water. So each morning we took the train into the city, hoping that would be the day. And each day we discovered that the water had not been connected. Finally they identified a blue water pipe traversing the ceiling of the station, about forty feet above our store. We bargained for access. We promised to work on connecting to that pipe during off hours (from 1am to 5am). Each day we got closer.
The opening was imminent. We temporarily moved into one of Ben’s friend’s flats in the city, to shorten the commute during our opening. Yet each day, when we arrived, the water still hadn’t been connected.
I distinctly remember the feelings, the emotions, of those days. Frustration that forty feet separated us from a long-awaited opening. Excitement that we were so close. Dread, that it would fail.
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(to read the next installment, “The First Pretzel,” click HERE
(to read the first installment about my life in England, click HERE)