It is with great pride and honour that I can now share the news with you that Felix & Norton has a shop in the United Arab Emirates. Nearly two years of negotiating, planning, and hard work have culminated with a moving and marvelous opening ceremony Thursday night at the Al Ain mall.
Like every other store opening I've ever been involved with, there were thousands of details and unanswered questions to be determined at the last minute. Would we receive the printed cookie boxes on time? How would we train the staff to use the cash register when the cash register had not yet arrived? Would our cookies be as exciting to consumers from a different cultural background? Would we be able to remain standing till the end of the night after being on our feet for 18 hours after only three or four hours of sleep?
Here's how things went down: Thursday evening in a Muslim country is like Friday night in the West. Since Friday is the holy day, Thursday evening is the kickoff to the weekend, and because the mall is also filled with entertainment venues, the crowds were pouring in. After a brief respite for us to shower and change into our fancy clothes, we returned to the mall for 6 pm, and began the baking marathon, and to put the finishing touches on the store's appearance.
The official opening of the store was scheduled for 8 pm, and because we are a kiosk in the centre of the mall, the curious were hanging close by and hoping for samples well before that time. One of the first to arrive was a close friend of Swaidan from Quebec who now lives and works in Abu Dhabi who I had met, as we had used him as our cookie mule to bring samples to the Emirates when he was traveling here. He had already posted a message to Québécois in Dubai on his LinkedIn page that Philip and Norton was opening, so clearly we were off and running. We prepared our trays of samples polished everything one more time, and had our own internal opening ceremony before welcoming our guests and the public. We presented Swaidan with our gift of a globe that turns continuously on its stand, bearing a simple inscription of congratulations for bringing the world closer together and making it more F&N.
We then began the feeding frenzy that is a cookie store opening. Trays of samples disappearing faster than they could be refilled, journalists, friends and family snapping photos and big smiles all around. It was the first alcohol-free opening in our history, as the celebratory beverage was small cups of delicious Arabian coffee. In no way was the joviality or the conviviality of the celebration diminished. Finally, Swaidan's associate and close friend from Abu Dhabi arrived after 9 and we set up for the official ribbon cutting ceremony.
Lots of smiles, hugs and good wishes all around. No speeches though, it was relatively low key. And of course the cookies were a huge hit. Gina and I were treated like visiting royalty, welcomed, embraced and photographed by members of Swaidan's entourage and strangers alike.
The love in the air overwhelmed even the smell of the cookies.