It was February 14, 2012.
I was still living in Charleston, South Carolina bartending full time at South End Brewery. On this particular Valentine’s Day I was dating a strapping young man named David, a chef who also worked at SouthEnd.
David was my second boyfriend since Middle School which puts a solid ten years of “education-focused-life” during my formative years. Read: there were zero male suitors within a ten mile radius from the end of my Middle School career until after college.
My single life marathon (which I’m largely still winning) began when I was 11 or 12 years old after my Middle School relationship ended with Alexander Doupnik. Alexander was a 7th grade dreamboat and our courtship jumped off to a momentous start inside the confines of Mr. Pruitt’s band class.
I was in the front row holding my flute when Alexander publicly requested from the clarinets behind me, “Will you go out with me?”
My reply was an exasperated “FINE.” Yes. I will be your girlfriend okay?
Luckily for all of us, my childhood best friend and innate situational comedian Julie Kriegshaber also played the clarinet. She sat directly beside Alexander. This made Julie an eye-witness to our riveting romantic exchange.
Alexander and I didn’t make it past a couple weeks and a few clammy hand-holds, shocking I know. But over a decade later Julie has refused to let me forget my gracious reaction.
A response Julie and I still laugh about today.
On my first Valentines Day with my adult boyfriend David, he was scheduled to work a 14 hour shift at SouthEnd.
I was disappointed we wouldn’t be together, but the day before Valentine’s a fellow bartender asked me to pick up her shift. I obliged with zero qualms.
I could be closer to David.
I started my shift in a great mood. The sun was out and some genius had put Valentines-Day-themed peanut butter M&Ms behind the bar.
Life was grand.
A few hours into my shift, a couple walked into the restaurant and asked to be seated at a high-top table near the TVs. The high-tops were technically in the bar area, but on this particular day they were not assigned to my section.
The couple settled into their tall chairs and began to survey the menu when I overheard the server assigned to the high-tops complaining about how she did not want a table.
I shoved a hand full of M&Ms into my mouth and volunteered to take it.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the man from the high-top begin to approach the bar. He asked what I was eating, and I reluctantly outstretched my hand to offer my life’s most important sustenance.
He gently took a single M&M, turned to walk away, quickly swiveled back on his heel and said, “Actually! I need one for my wife.”
I thought to myself, “Huh. That is TRUE love.”
The man sat back in his chair as I flopped from behind the bar to take the happy couple’s order. They were from North Carolina and on their way to Florida to experience their first Bar Mitzvah.
They were only in Charleston only for a single afternoon re-charge of beer and nachos.
At this point in my life I had been talking to friends and family about starting a theoretical company called “BANGS Shoes” for almost two years.
I had moved to Charleston in 2010 specifically to launch the brand. In February of 2012 I still had zero shoes to show for my years of talking.
Yes, I got discouraged at times.
Sometimes if a customer were to ask why I moved to Charleston I would smile with exhaustion and reply, “The beach” because I just didn’t have the energy to explain otherwise.
On this particular Valentine’s Day, the man at the high-tops (with whom I had graciously shared my valuable chocolates can you believe it) asked me to tell him something interesting about myself.
I weighed my options.
Give the friendly couple the beach run-around? Or talk openly and honestly?
I decided to share my idea for BANGS Shoes.
The man and woman listened intently and asked the usual questions. What do the shoes look like? Why the name BANGS?
But the their questions quickly turned into inquires that felt almost too personal. Did I have a business plan? The man asked to look at it.
I politely declined his offer when the woman set down her fork and knife, looked me square in the eyes and said, “Hannah you should listen to him. He knows what he’s talking about.”
I decided to compromise by taking the man’s contact information. My plan was to add his email address to our brand spankin’ new email marketing list because yes. My theoretical company did have an email marketing list thank you very much.
The moment their bill was settled and they left the restaurant, I felt compelled to do what any Millennial would do.
I Googled his name.
The Internet showed me that this man was a retired executive from VF, one of the biggest parent apparel companies in the world.
I learned VF owned brands like The North Face, Vans Shoes, Timberland, Jansport, Nautica, the list went on.
I stopped breathing.
This couple had chosen to enjoy SouthEnd Brewery from an endless sea of Charleston restaurants during their single-afternoon visit. I had taken their high-top table in a section that wasn’t mine during a shift I picked up last minute.
The icing on the cake: this man had a CAREERS worth of knowledge that I wanted to tap in to. What in the world was I supposed to do next?
Time crawled as my mind raced.
When my shift finally ended I ran out of the restaurant and dialed the phone number of one of my most trusted friends.
I called Julie Kriegshaber.
And from that point on, everything changed.
Valentines Day 2012 was the day George and Gail Derhofer walked into SouthEnd Brewery in Charleston, SC and change my life forever.
Until next time,