It’s not everyday someone gets to say they are preparing to make 7,000 to 10,000 potato pancakes. But then, everyone isn’t on staff at The Bagel Deli and Restaurant off Hampden Avenue.
For the holidays, that’s the approximate amount of latkes the “old-school Jewish comfort-food purveyor,” considered one of the best Jewish delis in the country that also had a state-designated “day” on April 1, 2017, gets to craft. And that’s not to mention the daily dishes—like fried matzo brei, homemade chicken soup and beet borscht—and catering orders that keep the place busy.
Owner “Bagel Joe” Kaplan wouldn’t have it any other way. Here, a look into how they make it all happen.
6 a.m. | What is the first thing you do in the morning?
“I walk around and make sure everything is where it should be, and is the way it should be,” says Kaplan. “What food do we have left from last night? What do we need to prepare this morning? In the old days before we did breakfast, we were focused on getting prepped for lunch: Let’s make sure our corned beef and pastrami is ready.”
6:30-7 a.m.| Do you have a typical early-morning rush?
“Once our bagels are delivered, if people are here at six and we have our crew, the doors are unlocked and the open sign goes on. Generally, we’ll always have somebody coming in for an egg sandwich.”
How do mornings change during the holiday season?
“People who are going out to do their shopping during sales sometimes come in early for breakfast, and then we see another rush after 1:30 p.m., when people are done shopping for the day.”
10 a.m.-who knows | When is your break between breakfast and lunch?
“It depends on the day and weather. One of my favorite things about this place is that you can come in for lunch on a really cold, bitter day and the restaurant will be packed. People will ask me how and why it’s so busy.
“I’ve told the story a number of times, but right after Sept. 11 a lot of restaurants were slow at night and during the day because people were nervous to go out. But we did really good business at that time. Places like the Bagel Deli, along with others, made people of every community feel comfortable. We wanted people to know that there was something they could hold on to and feel safe in still.”
4-7 p.m. | What’s special on the dinner menu?
“Our full menu is served 12 to 13 hours a day, so you can get anything you want at any time. We also have something called Chicken in the Pot that we only offer after 4 p.m. because it takes a little while to prepare. Generally, we’re ready for more platters at night and, on nights and weekends, a lot more dishes for the kids.”
Sunup-sundown | When do you prep?
“We prepare for the next day all day long so there’s no scramble at night to get stuff done. We cook corned beef and briskets all day, make egg and tuna salad and ‘cheat’ at other stuff.
“We think our potato pancakes are the best because of the way we make them. Each one is individually made by hand—there’s no machine back there squirting out the potato mix. We also use chicken fat, something most people aren’t going to use.”
What are some other big holiday sellers?
“Our soup, because it’s cold, becomes a real big thing. Our matzo ball soup and our chicken soup get popular, along with our chili.”
8 p.m. | How do you relax at the end of the day?
“Once I’m done doing the book work at home, I tend to turn on music to unwind, which is something I have done since I was 12 years old.”
6 a.m. | It starts all over again.
“Don’t be afraid to try something at our restaurant that you think sounds strange, because you have probably had something like it in another restaurant. We are a family owned place, come on in and ask questions—we’ll take care of you.”