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  • Writer's picture Kester Eddy

From Graham Greene to Earl Grey Tea - 1990s Budapest Entrepreneur with Eclectic Offerings - UPDATED

Updated: Feb 22, 2022

KesterTester64 - The early 1990s saw a boom in business start ups in CEE. Some flourished, at least for awhile, though many quickly failed. But this one, believe it or not, is still extant, although the Heinz sauce and olive oil are surely no longer on offer and the founder is, naturally, a little older, probably wiser and rarely in a customer-facing role.

PhotoTester: I have a feeling many readers will have used this outlet since this photo was taken in the summer of 1992, although the arrangement has long since changed.

KT64 Questions: What is the shop? Who is the dashing young entrepreneur? And your bonus for ten: why the variety of goods for sale?

Achieve world fame and celebrity status - answers please via the website system or in an email.

I suppose I should add that this piccie was taken to illustrate a story on said chappie and the machinations to open his business for Budapest Week - a story done, if I remember correctly, by Steven Carlson, one of the founders of that first independent English-language paper here.

By the way, there is STILL time to have a crack at KesterTester63 - that's about the 20-second film clip supposedly about Nazi Germany annexing the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia.

I'll post the results by Saturday morning.

Sleuth on!

​Update: "The Finest Hour of Hungarian Bureaucracy!" Contestants and Results – Including, of course, the LUCKY WINNER, for whom GLOBAL CELEBRITY STATUS is just about to take over his/her life! First, apologies for taking so long over this one. I realise now why that is – when I first got round to trying to let everyone know, I remembered I had, somewhere, a copy of the paper with this photo and the article it illustrated. So I thought I'd find it and publish a copy of the piece. But after two hours today searching through a box and bag of assorted, dusty papers from 1991 – 2002, I can't find it. I'm still trying, and hope to post it tomorrow. Meanwhile, to save you biting your fingernails down yet further - here are the contestants. The long-departed (from Hungary, not this earth) John W. Hayes was a surprise entrant, writing from windswept Grimsby, Lincolnshire (or possibly on the train to London). “I recognize that guy. Is it Tony from BestSellers?” he proffered. “Do I win a prize?” Patience, dear John. You shall have to await the draw, and KesterTesters attract global attention, you know. It ain't that easy! Annabel Barber had a sort-of entry: “Those are some braces Tony has there,” she wrote. (Trust a woman to go for the fashion items. Still, out of the goodness of my heart, I let her enter the hat, as number 3.) Bob Dent wrote in about a week ago. “Incidentally, is it too late to respond about KT64. If not, it's surely Tony Lang, founder of Bestsellers. I would guess the non-book stuff on the shelves is there since at the time those products were not easily available in Hungary.” Very close, Bob, but not entirely correct. Still, I'll let it pass. “ Too easy,” wrote Richard Lock, some hours after posting this Tester, “Tony hasn't changed at all.” 1. Tony Láng/Dabbous 2. Best Sellers 3. The shop was previously a csemege/ grocery and therefore I assume their permit required such produce to be sold.

Hmmmm, that's a lawyer at work there, methinks. Alan Sutton piled in with “Oh I forgot to answer.” Well, you have now Alan. “Of course it is Bestsellers. The sauces etc are because they also sold groceries, esp those missed by expats (Birds Custard, Marmite, that kind of thing.) Wasn't his name Tony Lang?”

Hey - HERE it is - thanks to Tibor Szendrei, a copy of the original story, from August, 1992.

Photo: a copy of the original article, by Steven Carlson, celebrating the arrival of Best Sellers in the English language paper, Budapest Week. (You are right, Annabel, those braces are really something :) )

Always on the sleuth, John Cantwell entered with: “I believe that is the founder of Bestsellers and his name is Tony Lang.

From their site: “Bestsellers first opened its shop at number 11 Oktober 6. utca in September 1992. It was formerly a grocery store.”

“So I guess they still had inventory from the grocery shop. May as well sell it!” Not to be outdone, least of all by arch-sleuth rival John Cantwell, Hubert “Poirot” Warsmann wrote in minutes after posting. “This is Tony Lang in the early days. BestSellers bookstore (Október 6 utca). I seem to recall that when he decided to open a bookstore, he took over a grocery store that operated in these premises. He had difficulties in obtaining the landlord's permission to change the nature of trading, hence an amount of grocery being available in the store for a while. The finest hour of Hungarian bureaucracy!” And with that, Hubert nailed the entire narrative. Last time I met Tony, a year or two back, he told me he still had a jar of Marmite (or some such) on the shelf somewhere as a memory of those early weeks of battling the permit issuers. But despite Hubert's very thorough answer, the slip of paper out of the hat this time round was number 2, which was the lucky digit of ….

... David Thompson, who wrote: “KT64. Well, it is the instantly recognisable Tony Lang of Bestsellers. I think the story was that he bought a store which had previously been used as a grocery shop and so had to offer some grocery products until he could get permission to use it as a bookshop.” Dead right, David. Hearty congratulations – and we said we'd have a beer sometime a month or so back, didn't we? Now we have no excuse! Unless, of course, your home is surrounded by adoring fans :) Now, there is still time to have a crack at KT65 – I have had a few entrants, but not many. And I've added another clue to help out.

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