By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM
Hungry, hot, and sticky up until the final 10-second countdown— those who waited hours in line at Schlotzsky’s grand opening last Thursday morning endured much for the promise of a year’s worth of free sandwiches.
Of course, the Uno cards and generator-powered fans helped, too. So did the guitars and handheld games.
At 9 a.m., one hour before the 10 a.m. opening, the line already stretched around the building and then some. Those just arriving had difficulty knowing where to stand in the mass of people.
At the front were Sarah Fleming and her nine-year-old son, Joshua, who arrived at 8 p.m. the night before. Though the sun blazes down, they have a prime spot right next to the front door.
Joshua said he’s the bigger fan. But his mother says she’s been one longer. In the 1970s, when Fleming was a little girl, her mother took her to the original Schlotzsky’s on Austin’s South Congress Avenue, which opened in 1971.
Since then the popular sandwich shop has spread to hundreds of locations across the globe. Liberty Hill comes as its latest addition.
And as is true for any Schlotzsky’s opening, the first 100 customers to the Liberty Hill location received a coupon entitling them to one free small sandwich (the ham-based “Original” style on a sourdough bun) every week for a year.
“My husband asked me if I really planned to eat all those sandwiches,” Fleming said, “but it’s not really about that. It’s about making memories.”
Fleming said that after she finished chemotherapy last year, she adopted a new resolve to “make the most of everything, little or big.” So while she herself is a seasoned veteran of many Black Friday sales, her son has never before camped overnight for a line. It’s something he’ll remember for a long time, she says.
Next in line was Steve Salinas, there with his two sons Gavin, age 12, and Gage, age 9.
They had arrived roughly an hour after the Flemings last Wednesday night. And while the Flemings brought a guitar and some iPads, the Salinas family brought a copy of the Monopoly board game. The session they started took them until 4 a.m. to finish. Mrs. Salinas visited her husband and the boys in the morning on her way to work.
Salinas answered the defining question of the morning with ease. “Will I eat a sandwich a week? Absolutely, hands-down, and yes.”
The line beyond them continued to grow longer as the clock ticked 9:30 a.m.
A representative from the corporate office wandered the line with a camera and a cardboard cut-out made to look like a social media post. Those in line were invited to have their photo taken with the cut-out. The representative said the photos could be uploaded to the Schlotzsky’s corporate Facebook page.
Around the corner on the building’s west side, two 18-year olds from Leander enjoyed the shade on a blanket.
“He’s the one who wanted to come,” says Sarah De Amara, pointing to Austin Pezold. “But I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t a fan myself.”
They joke about what they’ll do with the free sandwich every week.
“Even with the free one, I think I might just buy a sandwich every week, too,” Pezold said. “That way I can always keep one in the fridge to sell to my friends.”
Toward the end of the line, Grace Alive Church Pastor Dawn Slack had arrived just minutes too late to receive the free sandwich coupon. The man in front of her group was the line’s 100th arrival.
“I guess I feel pretty lucky,” said Alex Mast, who had arrived about an hour earlier.
By 8:45, there are 120 people in line.
A corporate representative announced to the crowd that the baker has made more CinnaBuns, which are the cinnamon rolls that first arrivals had to purchase to qualify for the giveaway. Instead of the first 100, the first 120 customers received the free sandwiches coupon.
Meanwhile, the scene inside the restaurant buzzed with activity (and air conditioning).
Corporate managers, store managers and employees, all color coded by polo shirts, shuffled around their different stations preparing for the horde outside.
Cashier Regina Cox said she felt ready. And also admitted that she had eaten two CinnaBuns.
That morning many of the employees and managers had squeezed by the crowds to enter the store.
Owner John Bowen said the crowd was energizing, but even then, he was still nervous— “you’re always nervous.”
The Liberty Hill location is his second Schlotzsky’s. He opened the first in his hometown of Lampasas two years ago.
“You think you’re gonna know what it’ll be like, but until that rubber hits the road, you never really know,” he said.
Later that day the ice machine broke, but Bowen himself stood next to it and personally scooped ice for all the customers filing in and out.
At 9:55 a.m., Store Manager George Haranda called everyone together for a team huddle. Outside, the Flemings start a countdown. “10, 9, 8…” It grew louder as it spread through the line. “4, 3, 2….”
The door opened, and the whole balloon-filled deli erupted into applause.