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The Great Long Island Bagel Race: Bites from behind the scenes

While racing across the North Shore to find the best bagels, I also had a chance to talk to some of the people who create, imagine, inspire and work hard to keep Long Island's bagels some of the best around. I also ran into a few local bagel store regulars who know a thing or two about their favorite bagel spot. You heard from me on Dec. 10, now here's a taste of the bagel scene from their point of view.

A man of tradition

Joe Magagnin, 86, is East End Bagel
Credit: Amy Onorato

Joe Magagnin, 86, is East End Bagel Cafe's long-standing regular customer. Eating an egg sandwich and reading the morning newspaper at the Southold store has been his morning ritual for the last 40 years, preceding even current owner Vincent Cutrone, who bought the business from its previous owners 17 years ago.

"This used to be the only bagel place in town," Magagnin said. "So I came here. I still come here."

"Have you ever thought to go somewhere else?"

"No. This is my bagel store."

Early to rise

Nick Gounaris, owner of Signature Bagels in
Credit: Amy Onorato

Nick Gounaris, owner of Signature Bagels in Riverhead, makes all of the store's bagels from scratch every morning. Gounaris says he arrives to work as early as 2:30 a.m. to start cooking, just to make sure he has enough bagels ready before opening at 6.

"I'm a morning person, so this job is perfect for me," he said. "I don't mind waking up early to cook."

Picking up the pieces

Donna Marie Ciervo has worked as manager
Credit: Amy Onorato

Donna Marie Ciervo has worked as manager at Cella Bagels in Selden since it opened in 2011. When the store was destroyed in a fire on Christmas Day 2012, Ciervo was there on the front lines to help pick up the pieces. The store reopened January 2013, only four weeks later.

"After the store burned down, it was devastating," Ciervo said. "It was Christmas, we all had just spent so much money on presents. We had bills to pay with no work, and no paycheck."

"It took a little over three weeks to put the store back together. We were here 12, 13, 15 hours a day, just working. But we managed to restore it pretty much back to how it looked before, detail for detail."

A dynamic duo

Strathmore Bagels in Stony Brook is owned
Credit: Amy Onorato

Strathmore Bagels in Stony Brook is owned by husband-and-wife team Chris and Diane Williams, 49. The couple has been married for 25 years and has co-managed the store for the last 12 years.

Chris says his specialty is his chicken salad, while Diane prides herself on her unique cream cheese creations.

"We like to try new things, we're always coming up with ideas and seeing what we can do with them," Diane said. "Some things end up really working out well."

A labor of love

Richard Silvestri, owner of Brendel's Bagels & Eatery
Credit: Amy Onorato

Richard Silvestri, owner of Brendel's Bagels & Eatery of New York in Hauppauge, gave some good advice when it comes to getting customers to try new menu items.

"It?s all about presentation," Silvestri said. "The eye eats first, so if someone likes what they see, and it looks good, they?ll be more likely to order it, and order more."

Silvestri came on board at Brendel?s when it opened four years ago, and is hands-on when it comes to all of the restaurant?s operations. Brendel?s offers full breakfast, lunch, dinner and catering menus, and with everything cooked on premise, the kitchen here is always busy.

"Bagels are a nickel-and-dime business," Silvestri said. "It?s hard to be very successful. As cliché as it sounds, I do it as a labor of love."

Friendship with a side of cream cheese

The Romeos, short for Retired Old Men
Credit: Amy Onorato

The Romeos, short for Retired Old Men Eat Out, is made up of a group of old friends who meet at Bagel Chalet in Commack every Wednesday for lunch. The group members all met at the store as local regulars.

"We've all been coming here for decades, and we all just sort of gravitated toward each other after seeing each other every day," Sy Hofsetter, 74, said. "Now that we?re all retired, our Wednesday lunch has become kind of a tradition."

In the biz of giving back

Danny Fuchs (center), head cook Selma Turk
Credit: Amy Onorato

Danny Fuchs (center), head cook Selma Turk (left) and manager Jennifer Scola (right) are the core leaders of Bagel Biz in Melville. For them, giving back to the community is a central goal for their growing business.

"I try to reach out as much as I possibly can," Scola said. "Mothers, fathers, their children, they come in all the time. We recognize people and their families from around the neighborhood, and we know the high school football players, the students, where everyone is coming from. So we donate bagels for their sports games, for other events."

"I know they're just bagels, but we do what we can for the community."

A tasty trick

Luba Yudkovitch, owner of Bagel Works in
Credit: Amy Onorato

Luba Yudkovitch, owner of Bagel Works in Huntington, shares her secret on ordering the perfect bagel.

"My favorite bagels are sunflower seed bagels," she said. "And whenever I order them fresh, I always tell the baker to leave mine in longer, to make it dark. That way, it really toasts the seeds for the best flavor."

A sweet treat

Pete Mandler, 54, is a regular at
Credit: Amy Onorato

Pete Mandler, 54, is a regular at Gabby's Gourmet Bagelatessen in Woodbury. During a visit, caught him enjoying a mid-afternoon snack, mid-bite.

"I usually get spinach and egg whites, occasionally I'll get a regular salad from here. But sometimes I cheat," he said. "My biggest vice are the cookies, as you can see. They have good cookies here, too."

A change of taste and trade

Bagel Mentch owner David Weiss, 47, wasn't
Credit: Amy Onorato

Bagel Mentch owner David Weiss, 47, wasn't always in the bagel business. Before opening the fully kosher bagel store in Great Neck 16 years ago, Weiss worked in the textile business. The Great Neck native also currently works as a volunteer paramedic for the Great Neck Vigilant Fire Company.

"I got into this because I wanted a change of pace, and at the time, Great Neck was in need of an all-kosher bagel place," Weiss said. "It wasn't hard to pick up ? business is business, whether you're working with textiles or with bagels."

Making it work

Marc Desatnick, 44, is one of the original
Credit: Amy Onorato

Marc Desatnick, 44, is one of the original owners of Manhasset Bagels, which opened up shop eight years ago. Now the store's hand-rolled bagels are a local favorite.

"When this place first opened, I was here around the clock, 18 hours a day, every day, until we got it off its feet," Desatnick said.

"It was hard, but it was worth it, we wanted to make it work and we did."

40 years strong

Glen Cove Bagel Cafe managing partner John
Credit: Amy Onorato

Glen Cove Bagel Cafe managing partner John Compitello, 54, got his start in the bagel business when he was only 15 years old, working at Cindy's Bagels in Garden City Park. Forty years later, he owns his own business and is still going strong.

"I've been in the Long Island bagel business my whole life, in Hicksville, in Garden City," he said. "But I've never seen a community as friendly, as nice, as Glen Cove."

Late-night laughs

As the manager of the late shift
Credit: Amy Onorato

As the manager of the late shift at Bagel Boss in Hicksville, Paul Scarione, 26, has met a lot of interesting characters. There was one, however, that he will never forget.

"There was one late night, around eight or nine years ago, when this big, big guy got on line waiting for a bagel," Scarione said. "It was loud, the store was crowded with a bunch of rowdy people coming in after a night out. This guy, he screams out, and the room goes quiet. And he goes: 'Hey everyone! How do you stop someone from stealing your bagel? You put LOX on it!'"

"It was such a corny joke, but the whole store burst out laughing," Scarione said. "He still comes in here now from time to time, but I?ll never mention that night."

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