In retrospect, if given the chance, he would have kicked the very first customer out of Ponyville's newest restaurant at the moment he heard the happy voice.
"Oh, hi!" the bubbly mare greeted his cashier. (He, attending to the dipping sauce, wasn't looking in their direction.) "It's nice to meet you, and I'm glad you're finally open! You're new in town, right? I would have remembered your face if you weren't. I remember everypony's face. And because you're new in town, I'd really really like to..." A thoughtful, but decidedly brief pause. "Well, after your shift. So let me see..." A slightly longer pause. "You know what smells really good? Those garlic knots! Isn't it weird, how garlic knots smell so good, but after you eat them, you don't -- anyway, how much are they?"
"The prices are over there," his cashier said in her carefully practiced bored tone, probably with the well-taught disinterested nod towards the menu.
The bubbly mare presumably looked. "Oh, okay -- I see! They're half a bit each! That's a little -- well, they still smell really really good, so I'm sure they're worth it!"
"And half a bit for the optional dipping sauce," his cashier smoothly added from somewhere in the middle of her self-induced semi coma.
"So I've got some friends... well, maybe everypony won't want to try one. Or maybe they will. And Dashie will probably try to grab two, or three, or whatever everypony doesn't get to in time..." Another pause for consideration, along with what was probably some very complicated math. "Let's just go with seven. I can come back if I need extras."
"That'll be four bits," his cashier immediately told that first customer. For his part, he moved to put the garlic knots in the oven.
A much longer moment of silence.
"Three and a half bits," the customer said. "Seven knots. Not eight."
"Seven knots," his cashier said, "plus the optional dipping sauce. Four bits."
"Oh!" The bubbly mare had the sort of smile you could hear. "Well... that's marinara sauce, isn't it? I don't think anypony really likes marinara sauce. Not with any of my friends. Maybe somepony in Ponyville does, but finding out might take a while. And honestly, it sort of smells like your tomatoes might have -- anyway, I don't want that."
His cashier did exactly as she'd been taught. "Four bits."
"But..." A little more slowly. "...I don't want the sauce. It's optional. I'm leaving it behind."
"Right," his cashier said. "Four bits."
A surprisingly deep breath. "How about -- we just treat the extra half-bit as representing one more garlic knot?"
"All right," his cashier told her in an agreeably bored tone. "That'll be four and a half bits."
"...can I speak to a manager?"
At which point, he turned and, upon seeing the bright pink earth pony, trotted up to the counter.
"Is there problem?" he asked, careful to project the fake accent at maximum force. It didn't seem to work, but that might have been because the mare already appeared to be slightly concussed. "Problem with order?"
"I just wanted seven garlic knots," the mare said. "No dipping sauce, please."
Demeaning somepony's income was always a positive step in establishing the proper customer-merchant relationship. "And you not have four bits?"
"I just don't want the sauce. Nopony's going to use it."
"So leave it here," he told her.
"I'm trying to."
"After paying for it."
The mare abruptly shook her head, twice and hard. Curls bounced.
"I just want to pay for the things I'm getting..."
Which meant it was time for the next crucial step.
"You," he declared, "get nothing."
"You not want to pay for sauce? Then you must not want knots! No sauce, no knots! Get out! Get out and don't come back, ever! No knots for you!"
Bright blue eyes stared at him for a moment. Moved to his cashier, who appropriately responded with a yawn, beginning the first stage of her well-rehearsed performance in which she would ultimately pretend to fall asleep.
"It's baked goods..."
The mare took a long, mournful look at the garlic knots, then turned and slowly trotted away.
"May I speak to the manager, please?"
It was an unusual way to open a purchase, and so he immediately turned to look at the newest arrival, who turned out to be a short, exceptionally slender unicorn mare: four qualities which were just about all he would ever learn about her, and much more than he cared to remember.
He took the trot to the counter. "What you want?"
Her voice was oddly accented: a bit of Ponyville, touches of Canterlot, traces of somewhere else. Nothing he could use. "May I know your name, sir?"
"Knot Nazee," he said after a moment, which was used for ignoring the sounds of the voices outside. "Why?"
"Just so we can have a proper discussion," the mare said. "And a respectful one. Welcome to Ponyville, Mr. Nazee. I understand it's your first day in business and you've spent the entire last week locked up inside this building getting things ready, so you haven't really had a chance to make anypony's acquaintance yet. I'm the town librarian. My name is Tw --"
"Don't care. What you want?"
She blinked, then took a slow breath, one which took in far too much of the sadly-free scent of his wonderful knots.
"Mr. Nazee," she carefully said. "You are aware that Ponyville has no sales tax of any kind? Not on manufactured goods like a number of settled zones. Certainly not on food. It's part of the way we try to lure in tourist and shopper traffic from Canterlot, by letting them know they can make up the cost of any commute through the savings on their purchases."
A stupid question from an obviously stupid mare. "Manehattan have sales tax. Ponyville do not," he imperiously stated. "Manehattan branch have to try and make change in stupid non-standard bit fractions, at least until I tell everypony to round up."
"So you're from Manehattan?" the truly imbecilic mare asked.
"No." And before she could ask where he was from, he quickly surged to "Branches all over Equestria. Came to open this one personally. You order something or not?"
"Mr. Nazee," the slender mare went on without paying any attention to the important question, "your garlic knots smell wonderful. Your sauce... well, anyway, everypony wants to try your knots. But the dipping sauce... is optional."
"Good," he sarcastically stated. "Town librarian can read. Speaks well for Ponyville education standards. Or would if had not been meeting local ponies all morning."
"So you're not under the impression that we have sales tax, and you're using the sauce in order to cover what you'd have to pay Town Hall --"
"-- not stupid. Unlike everypony in this town --"
"-- so I'm sorry, Mr. Nazee, but I have to ask... what do you think 'optional' means?"
He stared at her for a few seconds, convinced such a small mare would have to collapse under the sheer weight of his gaze. Oddly, it didn't happen.
"You pay for sauce," he said. "You have option to take it."
There was an unusual degree of focus in the mare's eyes. He didn't like it.
"I have several dictionaries I could --"
"No knots for you! Get out!"
He was starting to get the impression that the white unicorn mare was flirting with him. She had a way of batting her eyelashes... well, it was truly something to see. Not that he visibly cared about it (as far as he could tell), because he usually wasn't going to be caught openly caring about anything: his Ponyville image was still under construction. But still, with no customers in the restaurant, there were far worse things to do than letting her enchant him. So he was staying at the counter, listening to the charming accent, one which he could also use absolutely no part of.
"Now," she smiled, "as a fellow retailer doing business in this settled zone -- well, it's not as if we have any crossover in our direct wholesalers, but I just happen to have a number of connections in the farming community, gathered via one of my close friends. So should you need a local source for tomatoes...?"
"Have source," he immediately replied. "Brother. Tomato farm on west coast. Special crop. Nopony else in Equestria raise that type. Get all tomatoes from him, for every branch, everywhere."
A rather cute frown. "How does he keep them fresh over so much distance?"
The confusion momentarily leaked through. "Fresh?"
"...oh. So how are you finding your first day selling in Ponyville? I noticed an unusual amount of traffic, but all of it seems to be outside your shop..."
He grinned. "Tell you secret?" Because she really was charming, and he could always deny the words later.
The eyelashes fluttered. "Please."
"They stay around restaurant after being kicked out. They talk about being kicked out, and why I do it. Makes business feel exclusive. Like they not good enough to buy here. So they send friends and family to see if anypony can manage it. Creates demand. And then I get best of settled zone. Only have to deal with ponies I want to deal with. Elite."
"We're... not a very large settled zone," the mare said. He started to wonder if it was worth remembering her name. "You named all your locations for me, and they're all in decidedly populous areas. When it comes to us, there's really only so many ponies you can offend before -- well, I have some regrettable experience there. Still, I suppose I can -- understand your tactic. There's a certain something to having one's goods considered as fit for the highest strata. However, to isolate -- well, that's neither here nor there, I suppose. So your dedication to the sauce is in part dedication to your sibling? There's a certain nobility in that."
"Keeps idiot out of trouble and gets me extra half-bits from other idiots," he said with satisfaction. And for the first time all morning, "You like to try knots now? Half-bit each, plus --"
"-- actually... I had an idea while we were talking. One which would improve your profits. May I gift it to you? As your welcome to our settled zone?" And her face was radiant with sincerity.
Improved profits? "Please," he smiled.
With obvious intelligence and more than a little pride, "Well, the thing about garlic knots is that no matter how excellent they are, there are certain -- after-effects upon one's breath. No fault of yours, of course! It's simply unavoidable. But we have a candy shop of quality in town, and the proprietor will wholesale to others, or nearly so. And I was thinking that if you truly wish to offer an 'optional' item to go along with your most excellent knots... you could buy mints from her. By the bale-ton. They're rather inexpensive in true bulk. And then when you sell your knots, you could offer the option of the dipping sauce at half a bit -- or the mints at a tenth-bit each. Which is truly a considerable markup, but the candy shop is rather far from here and ponies would have an immediate need. While it might seem like a small amount for each individual purchase, your profits would accumulate rather quickly. In fact, you might wish to suggest one mint with every two knots. Perhaps even more if somepony intends to split their order among friends, for all would have need..." The wonderfully-coiffured mane vibrated with excitement. "You see my logic, I trust? For a pony of intellect would recognize the opportunity, and you, sir, are quite visibly --"
"-- extra options..." he breathed, every letter carried on a tide of amazement. Why hadn't he ever seen it...?
"Yes!" she declared with a dainty excitement -- then had to do it again to get through the increased volume of muttering outside. "Now, I can put you in touch with our candy seller immediately. Her name is --"
"-- cashier!" he yelled. "New policy! Optional sauce now one dipping cup for every two knots!" Who immediately nodded, took up a piece of chalk between her teeth and headed for the slate. He watched her, smiling. "You are genius," he told the mare he wasn't currently looking at. "Must ask. After your own shop close for day, are you doing --"
The last part of the offer was meant to have flirtatious eye contact attached, and so he turned back to face her.
She was gone.
He shrugged. "Got own business," he remarked to nopony in particular. "Back after close." And then looked at the ponies milling outside his shop, unable to enter after he'd kicked them out.
Things were going exactly as planned. Or would have been, if they hadn't just been made so much better...
The grey-maned older earth pony probably had the wrong prescription on her glasses, which was why she was staring so hard at him through them. And was likely equally as hard of hearing, which was why she hadn't left yet.
"I told you!" he shouted again. "Get out! No knots for you!"
And instead of fleeing through the crowd outside (which would have recently required a lot of pushing, including through the air -- but there seemed to be considerably less ponies there now), she simply sighed. Her left foreleg came up, adjusted the ascot.
"So you truly have no idea who I am," she sighed again.
"Nor did you know who Mr. Rich was. Or our police chief, followed by all the uniform-free officers she sent in her stead. The head of our tax collection division. Much less our Bea --"
"-- something wrong with pony brain? Got to kick you out personally? Can sell to anypony I wish, can not sell to anypony I wish! So --"
"-- as best I can track, you have not sold to anypony. All day."
Another sigh and this time, the hoof adjusted her glasses.
"I swore I would never do this." The voice was soft. It was also steel. "Well, I suppose some would argue that it is in the nature of my office to violate such promises. And yet, I would normally regret it -- but I suppose, just this once, I can simply -- let the town's collective suggestion happen, and whether I added my own voice to the herd, nopony need ever know. We will simply -- do it."
He blinked, then immediately prepared to deny it had ever happened. "Do -- what? Can't do anything! Not legal to --"
"-- our police department has left the area," she quietly said. "All witnesses are being cleared from the vicinity. It will be your word against that of a settled zone. And now I will leave your restaurant. Because shortly, there will be a certain -- inversion of that. Goodbye, Mr. Nazee. It's a pity, really. They smell like such wonderful knots."
He felt nervous. He didn't know why. All he knew was that the crowd outside was almost gone, and the older mare was shrugging to herself as she trotted out, he screamed at her and nothing made her move faster, she simply left at her own unhurried pace, said a few unheard words to the last of the departing exterior ponies, and then...
...it was just him and his cashier.
After a moment, he shrugged at her.
"Stupid empty threat," he said. "Like other stupid empty threats in every settled zone."
Six mares trotted into his restaurant. Two of them weren't allowed to be there.
"GET OUT!" he instinctively screamed. "Already told! No knots for -- "
And then he saw the genius, and nearly all the volume went away as his face flashed into a smile.
"Oh, you!" he laughed. "Back so soon to see Knot?"
Her eyes narrowed. The lashes did not flutter. He wondered if he should try a compliment.
"Like your --"
"Necklace supposed to be glowing?"