Owners plan to offer outdoor seating
By Sabina Mollot
Carb fiends rejoice! Ess-a-Bagel’s new shop in Stuyvesant Town opened to a soft opening on Sunday, after multiple delays following an initially planned reopening date of February.
On Tuesday, following the Labor Day weekend, by noon, the line was already snaking around the back of the shop to 10 people and one of the owners, Mike Wenzelberg, reported business had so far been good.
Wenzelberg also sat down with a Town & Village reporter to discuss the reasons behind the delays, the controversial decision to install a toaster at the new shop and the company’s rabidly loyal fan base.
On Sunday, he recalled how a young woman outside, upon seeing Ess-a-Bagel was open, was “dancing and jumping.” Already, he’s seen quite a few regulars from the original location across First Avenue, which lost its lease nearly two years ago to Tal Bagels.
As for the new space, being closed all this time hasn’t killed the company financially, Wenzelberg explained, because Blackstone had “worked with us.”
He further praised the landlord, saying whenever Ess-a-Bagel’s owners had a question or some sort of infrastructure problem, “They were like Johnny on the spot. One plumbing guy gave me his home number. Without them it might have been longer (to open).”
Previously, other co-owners said the main reason for the delays was due to permits and how long the city was taking to crank them out. Since February, three permits have been approved by the city for work related to the new store’s renovation, for signage, sprinklers and floors.
However, there were other obstacles too. A bigger problem was that a gas meter had to have a new line drawn from the gas main. Other issues were related to the size of the oven and necessary duct work, as well as a new air conditioning unit on the roof and making sure the noise from it didn’t disturb neighbors. “We don’t want these tenants to be angry with us,” said Wenzelberg.
Asked what all this work cost, he responded, “A lot.” The amount however, he wouldn’t say. “I want to keep it a trade secret.”
As for the decision to start toasting bagels, the move has already been blasted by some bagel purists on social media. But according to Wenzelberg, the reason the original location didn’t have a toaster wasn’t due to any philosophical debate over whether to toast or not to toast a fresh bagel but because the owners just wanted to keep the line moving.
“The other store was so small; anyone who lives here knows how long the lines were on Saturday and Sunday,” said Wenzelberg. “Could you imagine if people waited for a toasted bagel? It would become dangerous. But there’s more space here.”
Additionally, customers could also be eating their bagels al fresco soon. The owners have already filed for permits for outdoor seating to accommodate around 24 people.
In other news, there are already a couple of new bagel varieties: 9-grain everything and whole wheat everything and Wenzelberg said soon he’ll be working on recipes for more with the employee who rolls the bagels.
Some things will remain the same however like Ess-a-Bagel’s tradition of giving all unserved bagels each night to City Harvest. There’s also, behind glass, a piece of the old shop, specifically a large chunk of the wood paneled wall that was signed by customers before the place closed. While installing wooden paneling in the new shop, it occurred to Wenzelberg that he at some point should alert customers that the new walls are verboten to taggers.
“I hope they don’t sign these walls yet,” he said.
One thing Wenzelberg regrets though is that not all of Ess-a-Bagel’s employees could rejoin the crew at the new location, since many of them had to move on to new jobs.
“Those guys worked for us for 20 years,” said Wenzelberg.
As for being located on First Avenue, where there are three other bagel shops between 14th and 23rd Streets alone, Wenzelberg said he isn’t worried. The reason, he explained, is that bagel lovers are very particular about what they want.
“People uptown say they have the best bagels and people here say we have the best bagels. It’s all about what you were brought up on.”
Later, one customer, Martha Markus, told T&V, “I’m very happy they reopened.” Though Markus, a longtime Stuy Town resident, thought the shop had some kinks to work out in terms of organization, she thought the new, larger space at 324 First Avenue “looked very nice.
“But,” she added, “I don’t know why it took them eight months to open.” Mainly, she said, she got embarrassed after seeing a sign that said the shop was “coming soon,” and had told friends she’d get them bagels, only to then not be able to deliver. “They have a big reputation,” Markus added, before tucking into her favorite order, a pumpernickel with walnut raisin cream cheese.
Meanwhile, another customer seated nearby could barely contain his glee as opened his wrapped bagel.
“I’m happy they’re open,” said Michael Pappas, a Gramercy resident as he ate a whole wheat everything with lox spread, tomato and onion. “When they closed their store I was devastated and we have more bagel places per capita than any other area.” Pappas said he favors Ess-a for the customer service and the store’s whitefish. At the old shop, he was a regular and would call ahead to see if there was a line before biking over.
“They’re toasting now so we’ll see how that works,” he added. Asked for his thoughts on this turn of events, Pappas indicated it was fine, “as long as it’s not messing up the line too much.”