With a name as ubiquitous as 7-11, you can be forgiven for assuming that it's all one big company. It's an understandable mistake. True, they all fall under one corporate blanket. There's a central company that collects the profits in exchange for letting others take advantage of their trademarked image, large-scale advertising, and instant recognition. So, while Corporate may take the profits, the stores are franchised, and even the franchises are under the blankets of a number of sub-companies, all of which technically have the right to call themselves "7-11" too.
In general, it's probably not an important distinction. There are rules to ensure standard pricing and participation in large marketing campaigns, which stores have to comply with. It's a part of the deal they make to use the brand. However, different store groups do have some differences. They'll get stock in from different regional suppliers, follow certain local codes and customs, and they're generally beholden to the subdivision of 7-11 that their franchise licence came from. To an avid connoisseur of speciality goods, identifying which 7-11 is which can be a very serious business, as there are some special offers indeed when you know where to look.
The stores the most discerning customers seek out are those owned by former members of the "J.D. Sterling's" convenience chain. The company started out as a group of loosely affiliated merchants managing general stores in the American Northwest, and gradually grew into a proper company, before becoming a part of the 7-11 brand in 1949, only three years after the chain's re-branding to that name. Even as a part of an international chain, however, the Sterlings have maintained their commitment to getting certain hard-to-find items into the hands of those who truly want them. Their speciality has maintained an affordable price that some would say does not reflect the true value of the ingredients that go into it, even after all this time. However, it is an item that the discerning traveller should endeavour not to miss.
First, though, you must know where to look. For the most part, the Sterlings still operate out of the north-western United States. However, with modern advancements, they've been able to branch out more and more, and you may be lucky enough to find one of their locations further abroad. They operate exclusively out of smaller, economically disadvantaged cities, a call-back to their days tending to the disadvantaged pioneers of the American frontier. In a city with several locations, the Sterling Store will be in the poorer part of town, near where it meets the more prosperous sections. Sterling locations have a slightly more old fashioned style than others, and are usually corner locations. The store is kept quiet, and workers are instructed to be especially polite.
Once you've found one of these special stores, wait until after midnight. Come in when the graveyard shift is under-way, and pick out a few odds and ends...whatever you think you'll need. It's important not to seem too interested in the special. They don't like to have too much attention drawn to it. It's only really meant for special customers. Just take your time, and finally come to the counter when you're good and ready. There should be a box of dried meat at each register. The one at the register that's closed is your goal, usually sold two for a dollar. If it's not there, or both registers are open, just pay for what you have and come back another night. If it's there, then you're good. Take a few, but not too many. Just politely deflect if the clerk offers a reason to take from the other bin. This is what you want, but again, it's important not to make it seem like anything special.
Once you've paid and leave the store, you'll be free to enjoy the meat at your leisure. It's guaranteed to be some of the richest, most flavourful meats you've ever tried. The taste is complex and refined, with a subtle, exotic spice that teases the palette. Just remember a few handy rules.
- Don't be a glutton; Try not to eat too much at a time.
- Don't be rude; Refrain from asking about their source.
- Don't be a liar; Never swear you aren't a cannibal on any holy book.
Written by Kefke Wren