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Broad Channel’s cheese bagels bounce back from brink

Photo by Steve Mosco
By Steve Mosco

Hurricane Sandy disrupted Broad Channel’s relative tranquility with a surge that washed away homes, roads, cars, businesses and the epitome of comfort food: the cheese bagel.

The warm, doughy, cheese-topped curiosities had graced the plates of the seaside community’s residents for more than 20 years before the storm’s fury gutted their home, The Bay-Gull Store, at 16-32 Cross Bay Blvd.

Owner Patrick Williams, 27, lost ovens, display cases, refrigerators and nearly everything else at the store he has owned for close to four years.

“Everything was flipped over,” he said from behind the counter of his small, unassuming deli with blue-checkered floors. “All of this heavy equipment was flipped over and ruined.”

Williams first observed the store’s damage the morning after Sandy, following a night spent huddled with family members mere blocks away after trudging through shoulder-deep water to rescue his dog from his own house.

But even with thousands of dollars worth of damage to his store and a long, worrisome night, Williams emerged from Sandy mostly unscathed.

“It’s hard to believe how bad it was unless you were here that night,” said Williams. “I was able to save a few items at my house, but I lost my car and my girlfriend lost her car — there was lots of damage.”

It took Williams six weeks to reopen The Bay-Gull Store, and because his signature bagels need a special, rotating oven, the venerable cheese bagels did not return to storm-weary residents until mid-January.

The store’s successful catering business also returned along with a curious element not seen in most bagel stores: a post office outlet.

“Come here, eat a bagel and send a package,” he said. “We do it all.”

Williams, who did not have insurance, spent $17,000 to replace his oven — a price he said he would pay again if necessary.

“When we first reopened, we were just selling essential items and it took a while to get the bagels going again,” he said. “But we put a sign up outside that our bagels were finally back. And when we did that, people were coming in here with big smiles on their faces.”

Customers range from residents around the block to construction workers and other transient individuals just passing through. One worker ordered two roast beef sandwiches on cheese bagels and another two plain cheese bagels before heading home to Queens Village for the day.

“If I don’t stop here when I’m in Broad Channel, I feel like I’m cheating myself,” he said.

Vanessa S., a longtime Broad Channel resident, said the store took on a “home base quality” after the storm, as people from up and down Cross Bay Boulevard struggled to rebuild.

“There are people still facing hard times here,” she said. “People are still waiting for insurance money.”

Williams strives to provide a bright spot for those people the best way he can: with a warm, cheesy bagel, a hot cup of coffee and a smile for every customer.

“When people come in here and they are happy, that makes me happy,” he said. “Even if they only order a coffee, I still want them to come here.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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