At 5 p.m. on the dot at Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, the one in the Northridge Fashion Mall, at the corner of Sears, across from Footsie, beside Journey’s, kitty-corner to Forever 21 and the Perfumella booth, a Girl Scout troop suddenly materializes. To drum up some business in these slow economic times, the intrepid owner of the franchise has invited the girls of Huntington Middle School troop 235 into the pretzel kitchen. Fresh off an exhausting cookie season, the Scouts nonetheless are up for the challenge of additional carbohydrates. Their mothers, being perhaps somewhat less attuned to the motto “Be prepared” and somewhat more distracted by the Banana Republic sale, materialize some time later.

“Have any of you ever thought of owning your own business?” asks owner Linda Reed, who, in her youth, was a Camp Fire Girl. The girls stare blankly at their Converse sneakers. One examines her black nail polish.

The captive audience of a half-dozen 13-year-old girls presents an irresistible opportunity for a little bit of market research. “Have any of you ever been to an Auntie Anne’s Pretzels before?” Reed asks, and is greeted by enthusiastic nods. “As you know, it’s a really tasty product. Everybody asks me if I’m Auntie Anne. I’m not. I wish I were,” says Reed, who then describes Anne Beiler’s ascent from single Pennsylvania pretzel-store proprietor with an eighth-grade Amish education to nationwide baked-goods empress. “I wouldn’t recommend only an eighth-grade education, but she’s a very successful person,” Reed offers.

The scouts watch a video on the history of pretzels, narrated by a cheeky-faced teen boy of what seems to be Dutch heritage. The laptop on which the video plays is located beneath a laminated sign that reads: “If a mall is open 10-9 p.m., the possible increase in sales by selling only 4 more pretzels each hour … 44 pretzels @ $2.00/pretzel = $88 increase/day, or $616 increase/week, or $32,032 increase/year.” As anyone who has ever unwittingly gone home with 10 boxes of Thin Mints knows, the Girl Scouts are no strangers to the power of compounded interest.

To earn today’s “Let’s Get Cooking” badge, the girls learn the proper way to gauge if they’ve washed their hands long enough (sing “Happy Birthday” while you do it), the most efficient way to twist a pretzel (roll it into a garden snake-sized tube, then whip it around in the air), and the effects of handling food with unwashed hands (lots of gross germs).

“The more you teach them the importance of washing their hands, the better,” says one mom, “which is fine by me.”

“Clean and busy, that’s our motto,” says another mom, a former high-powered contracts litigator–turned–Girl Scout troop leader. “Actually, it’s ‘Be prepared.’ But we like to keep the girls clean and busy. And it works.”

“I feel so special — we made a pretzel,” says pretty blonde scout Natalie Spaulding, halfway through the sugar cinnamon–coated pretzel she baked herself. It has the classic Auntie Anne’s texture and consistency of a bagel. “I always wondered how they made them.” Spaulding wants to be an interior decorator.

“Oh! I want to be an architect,” says her fellow scout Janice Chang. “We can work together.”

The next badge they will earn is the “Fitness to Fashion” badge. It will involve a highly anticipated tour of the Prada flagship store in New York City. “Will it be a Prada badge?” one girl asks.

“Wait. Why wasn’t I told about this?” Ilana Basseri wonders. After her cheerleading career runs its course, Basseri intends to take over her parents’ dry-cleaning business.

“They’ll probably give us goody bags,” one girl, an aspiring Vogue magazine editor, says knowingly.

It’s career day at their school the next day, and Friday, and a short school day; the girls are in an ebullient mood. Their troop also includes a budding newscaster, a future tennis player and an aspiring novelist. Quiet redheaded Abby Shamray poses obligingly as her father snaps a photo of her wearing a paper hairnet, a potentially traumatizing experience that may or may not be featured in her debut novel some day.

Fortified with free pretzels, coupons for more free pretzels, an Honorary Pretzel Roller certificate and a badge embroidered with the image of a pretzel (an image they’ve just learned represents the crossed arms of someone praying), the scouts rate the Auntie Anne’s badge as one of the most delicious they’ve earned — second only to the one they earned from a tour of the Razor scooter factory, which was not so much delicious as it was exciting.

“If anyone wants to stay,” Reed tells the scouts as they pack up, “we’ve got a shift that ends at 9.”

LA Weekly