Working And Living The American Dream

By Samantha Piggot

For the last four years my family has been making friends with and buying gas from the 7-11 store on the corner of Route 7 and Triple J Road. I admit, I was so skeptical and sad when the old Triple J shut down and I heard the dreaded words . . . 7-11. The whole idea of a national chain where our beloved Triple J store had been made me cringe. What about the people, I loved knowing the girls in Triple J and they made the best breakfast sandwiches. The thought of a 7-11 seemed so ‘Un-Berryville’ to me. As we all know, change is the only thing that stays the same.

Then I walked into the sparkling new store a day or two after it opened. It was beautiful, bright, and clean. I couldn’t believe how lovely it was and how many selections were available. I decided to risk it, and get a cup of coffee. It didn’t taste the same. It wasn’t what I was used to, and I’m ashamed to recall, I told whichever poor soul was working at the time that it was not up to par! She politely replied, “7-11 sells the most coffee in the country, besides Starbucks.” I may or may not have replied to that. I was still miffed by the corporateness of this endeavor at the end of my street.

Regardless, I need gas (and coffee), so I continued to patronize 7-11. Back then it was out of necessity.

A few tanks of gas and gallons of coffee later, I started to notice something different about this place. The employees were nice. They knew I was a regular. They knew who my husband was, and that he always writes checks. If I did not have my very active boys with me, whoever was working would inquire as to their whereabouts. Before I knew it my boys were high fiving Shyam, the manger, and begging him to let them help stock the soda. What kind of place is this? A convenience store that embraces children?

That year we went to The Outer Banks for vacation and, as we headed home, we stopped off at the souvenir shop. My husband saw a gigantic Outer Banks pen; he scooped it up and triumphantly proclaimed, “We have to get this for Shyam at 7-11; their pens are always disappearing!”

Sure enough he bought that pen, and so began our friendship with the 7-11 crew; over an Outer Banks pen.

What I really wanted to know is what makes this 7-11 different than any other location I have been in. How is it so clean? Why are the employees so nice? Why is there no employee turnover?

I finally got to sit down with Prayas Bhatta, who operates and owns the Triple J 7-11 with his wife Shweta Bhetwal, and get the inside story to the success of his business.

Bhatta immigrated to the United States at the age of 21—his parents had been here working, for eight years. He had not seen them during that time. Bhatta had begun some college in Katmandu, Nepal, where he grew up, but when the green card sponsorship through his father came up, he had to drop what he was doing and come to the U.S. When he arrived, he found himself not equipped for a lot of jobs. His experience didn’t translate to much, here.

Bhatta’s uncle owned 7-11 stores in Culpeper and Manassas at the time, and he agreed to take him on. Bhatta started as any employee would, and quickly took on two jobs, working at one 7-11 from 2pm to 10pm and another from 10:30pm to 7:30 am. He worked 16 hrs a day, 6 days a week. He did that for a year, and saved up enough money to send his hard working parents back home to Nepal for a vacation.

After a year, Bhatta’s uncle promoted him to manager of the busy Manassas location. Bhatta started to realize the value 7-11 can provide for owners and employees. “If you are willing to work hard and learn, you really can realize the American Dream,” Bhatta reflects.

The Triple J location has been a convenience store and gas station since at least the 1950s. The Slater Family purchased the land in 1949; it is not clear from the tax records if it was a store before they owned it. According to Berryville native Irene Pope, “Slater was the sheriff and he ran it. Then his children took over and ran the store, until Joe Lambert bought the property, that must have been early 80s.” In fact, the Lamberts, whose family corporation still owns the property, did purchase it in 1980. This was right about the time the state put in the Route 7 bypass.

Joe Lambert (deceased) ran the gas station and store for over 20 years. Many locals, myself included, remember the family atmosphere and local feel of the Triple J store.

In 2005 when Joe decided to retire, the location was one of the hottest commodities in three counties. Several large chains were in the running for the busy, profitable spot. In the end, 7-11 had the winning bid and after much renovation the store opened under corporate ownership (as all 7-11’s do).

When Bhatta learned about the location and that it would be available for private sale, he was intrigued. He and his wife spent a month driving to the store and watching the traffic pattern. “It didn’t take long to realize, with the volume of traffic on Route 7 in the morning, this was a great location,” Bhatta recalls.

He said it was a natural step for him. He knew 7-11 and understood how it works—as well as what ownership would mean. One thing he knew for sure was there was more hard work in front of him. Bhatta welcomed the challenge. Unlike many 7-11 owners, Bhatta works at the location at least five days a week. This business is not simply an investment to add to a portfolio, the store is a representation of the American Dream. He has to continue working to keep that dream alive.

Bhatta has a special work ethic. He exemplifies and imparts to his employees that hard work and a clean store are the start to running a really successful business. “We want our customers to leave with a smile, even if they didn’t walk in with one,” he said.

This is where the true success lies. When anyone walks through the doors of Bhatta’s 7-11, they can tell there is a difference. The store itself is amazingly clean: the floors, the coffee bar, the restrooms. The employees care. Because just like Bhatta they realize that the customers write their checks.

Marina Cash has worked at this 7-11 since before Bhatta owned the business. She is always ready to help and always asks about family and work. Manager Shyam Khatri has been with Bhatta for 4 years. He is another integral part of the store’s success.

Bhatta says as soon as he met Khatri he offered him a job and more money then he was making at his current 7-11. “Shyam is from the same area of Nepal as I am. Beyond that I knew he was hard-working and loyal, and that he had a dream—and that he was a keeper.” Any customer could easily think Shyam is the owner just because of the care he takes for the store and the customers.

The culture and climate at Bhatta’s 7-11 is all about being positive, family values and consistency. Bhatta also has the great pleasure of having his father working alongside him now at his 7-11.

A lot of the employees are able to communicate with people in three or four languages. That goes a long way to make customers feel comfortable. “They are the ones that make it happen, they do a great job,” Bhatta said. “I’ve been in their shoes.”