MIDDLESEX COUNTY — Sometimes you reach a crossroad in life. Other times you create that crossroad.
For Brian Bell, a new wife and the couple’s desire to spend more time together led him to trade in a 15- year career in automobile sales for ownership of a Philly Pretzel Factory shop in Piscataway.
AJ Borowsky often found himself looking for a new interests. That search lead Borowsky and his wife, Julie Vila, to open a Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa at The Shoppes at North Brunswick shopping center.
Both franchise businesses opened last month and while there have been challenges, the new business owners say the rewards are far greater.
“Yeah it took some courage to do this. It was a calculated risk on our part. But everything in life is a bit of a risk,” Bell said.
Vila arrives at the spa at 5 a.m. to check the appointment books and send e-mails. “I’m here all the time now and I love it,” Vila said.
“That was a shock to me,” Borowsky said. “I can’t keep her away.”
Opening a pretzel business was natural for Bell. A native of Philadelphia, he began eating soft pretzels as a child.
“Some of my earliest memories are of getting on a bus and going downtown for the first time with a quarter in my pocket and buying pretzels off of a vendor down on a street corner in Philadelphia. So I’ve always had this love affair with food, this love affair with life, a love affair with pretzels,” Bell said.
As a teenager Bell sold pretzels on street corners and at parades, rock concerts and ball games throughout the tri-state area.
Bell switched from selling pretzels to selling cars in the Philadelphia and Cherry Hill area. An offer to set up and manage a Gateway Kia dealership in North Brunswick brought him to the Central Jersey area. And it was there that Bell made what he considers one of the best deals of his life.
New Year’s Eve 2011 Bell was trying to close a deal on a vehicle with a woman and her husband when the wife offered to introduce Bell, who was going through a divorce, to her sister.
Bell called the woman’s sister on New Year’s night and went on a date shortly afterward and the two hit it off. But Bell’s new girlfriend didn’t want to date someone in the car sales business because of the long hours.
The girlfriend is now Bell’s wife and business partner, Linda, a science teacher at East Brunswick High School. Her day starts at 5:30 a.m. She suggested Bell start his own business and the two began researching franchise opportunities.
“We kept coming back to this and I, being from Philly, I really watched Philly Pretzel Factory open its doors,” Bell said. “They had a market for pretzel products. small pretzels, rivets, cinnamon pretzels, hot dog and sausage pretzels, cheese steak pretzels and pepperoni pretzels and the different dips that go with them, the marinara, the cheese, mustard, chocolate.’’
A few years after opening, franchises were offered. Marty Ferrill, president of Philly Pretzel Factory said Bell’s store is the 42nd store to open in New Jersey. Another store is under construction in Livingston and another five to 10 should open in New Jersey this year.
The Piscataway location, the site of a former flower shop, was chosen because of the proximity to highways and customers from Rutgers, New Brunswick, Piscataway, South Plainfield and Middlesex. He said there are 16 schools nearby, 22,000 cars drive by and 320,000 people work within a 3-mile radius of the store. Bell has about a dozen employees.
“It has been so busy here. I’ve had several hundred people a day walk in this door. We want everybody to know pretzels are for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’m serious. It’s a bagel, it’s better than a bagel. If you love bagels for breakfast, you’ll love pretzels for breakfast,” said Bell.
Bell is looking to open other Philly Pretzel Factory stores in New Jersey.
“It’s a lot of work. You have to get up early in the morning. But it was worth it,” he said. “It comes down to something simple, the product is delicious and I had a love, such a passion. I eat pretzels everyday. Look at me. I love the product. It’s fun. It’s fresh. It’s young. There is good will attached to it. It’s all about spreading the love and giving back,” Bell said.
Borowsky likes being busy. Since 2006 he has run the in-house training division at ABC News working with reporters and producers on new technology. A few years ago he went back to school for financial planning and took and passed a certified financial planner exam but never transitioned into that field.
Vila, his wife of 13 years, has worked as a mainframe computer system programmer for more than 20 years.
“I’m always looking for different things to do. I get bored easily,” Borowsky said. “My interests grab hold of me.”
The idea of owning a Hand & Stone massage and facial spa excited him when friends, who own four franchises, told him about the business.
“They knew my personality. I like to explore, but I wasn’t interested in the beginning. I had my career. Over the years I had time so that got me thinking. Then I had to convince Julie,” he said.
“I did not want this. I knew it made good business sense. I liked the franchise. I just didn’t want the extra work. Because I’m still keeping my career as long as a I can. I’ll be programming mainframes until they do eventually die. But now that I’m here, I love it,” Vila said.
Starting up their new business took a lot of time. There were construction delays related to Superstorm Sandy. But once the doors opened the couple forgot all about those problems.
“Here you get a massage, you feel great about yourself. You’re doing something for yourself. . If I was going to deal with the public I wanted to deal with a happy public. So that was exciting for me,” he said.
Vila said it’s fun to see people leave the spa with a smile.
The spa offers Swedish, deep tissue, trigger point, sports, prenatal and couple massages. The signature massage involves using hot stones to penetrate the heat.
“You’re butter. You come out and people can’t move after that. They are so relaxed,” Vila said.
“For health reasons, mental health reasons it’s a wonderful way to escape daily life. It’s your time. There is no kids, no phone. It’s your time. and it’s nice to feel pampered,” said Vila adding facials include a little neck massage to leave you feel relaxed and refreshed.
Borowsky said he worked hard to get into the shopping center because of the foot traffic. The North Brunswick location is one of 25 franchises in New Jersey with plans for about eight more to open this year, according to Todd Leff, Hand & Stone chief executive officer. He said sales have been strong the past two years because of the downturn in the economy and financial uncertainty, creating stress and a demand for the spa services.
Borowsky would eventually like to open more Hand & Stone spas, but there is a balance he has to strike between being too anxious and not knowing what he’s doing. He wants to first make sure the North Brunswick location is successful.
“As adventurous as I am, I can be cautious too,’’ he said.
*Introductory Offers valid for first visits. Not valid for gift cards. Services include 50 minute hands-on service and time allotted for dressing and consultation. Prices and services are subject to change and may vary by location. Offers may not be combined. Hand and Stone Massage and Facial Spas are independently owned and operated franchise locations.