Bagel Express: Interview With An Old School Bagelmeister
|Bagel, CC & Nova at Bagel Express|
He had a partner back then, and they were trained in the disappearing craft of hand-rolling bagels by "an old-timer from New York." A machine now performs the task of rolling at the Herzbrun bagel shop and deli, but everything else about the bagel is prepared the old-fashioned way. The flavors include salt, sesame, plain, pumpernickel, poppy, sesame, garlic, onion, egg, everything, cinnamon-raisin, and plain (if you're thinking more along the lines of blueberry or chocolate chip, you've got the wrong place). The small strip mall store also proffers hand-sliced Nova, cream cheese in various flavors, buttery rugelah, bagel sandwiches culled from Boar's Head cold cuts ("I used them before Publix"), and Dr. Brown sodas, natch.
I visited Bagel Express yesterday, shared a Nova platter with my wife, and took home some of the great bagels. Afterwards I spoke with Henry about the differences between his bagels and those at the chains, how the business has changed, and whether or not, after all of these years, he still eats bagels.
|Small Nova platter ($8.95).|
Henry Herzbrun: I think it was 49 cents.
They're $1.35. I made more margins at $4.99 a dozen than I'm making now at $11.95.
The cost of food, the cost of insurance, the cost of running a business, everything involved -- fees, permits, licensing, the different requirements...
Why did you make the decision to switch to machine-rolled bagels?
The old type of machinery, a Scale-O-Matic, had a piston drive that would push air out of the bagels. Then, about 18 or 20 years ago, they came up with machines that were belt-driven...so you could produce a fluffy bagel. The other way, the next day you would have bagels so hard they were like jawbreakers.
But unlike most bagel chains, you do everything else the way it used to be done.
With the newer places like Einstein's and Panera they stick an entire rack (of bagels) into the oven and it steams. And they make them ahead of time. We do a New York-style bagel. We let them rise, we boil them, we put them on bagel boards, seed them and everything else. It makes a big difference. The quality is much better.
The way we do it is labor intensive, and a lot more expensive to make. The materials are more expensive than before, but making a bagel is still labor cost more than anything. You can almost go with a one-man operation once you've prepared the bagels.