Gerardo “Jerry” Natale recalled growing up in the pizza business, “annoying customers” at his father’s pizzeria. But the third-generation baker is branching out and has entered a tasty new enterprise in Whitestone.
At the end of October 2019, Natale held the soft opening of Bagel Parlor at 14-37 150th St., which marked his return to the food industry after a 15-year hiatus. For the past four months, Natale has served up his hand-rolled bagels and other baked goods, bringing his passion for breadmaking to the community.
He learned the art of pizza and breadmaking from his grandfather and father, who owned Denado’s pizzeria in Bellerose and farmed wheat back home in Italy.
“I have flour in my blood,” Natale said.
But when his father fell ill and his mother took a job as a teacher on Long Island, Natale decided that he would take over the business at just 18 years old.
“The options were ‘sell it’ or ‘take it over’ and I decided to take it over,” he said. “I saw how hard my parents worked and it instilled a hard work ethic in me.”
But at 24, after a failed attempt to buy the pizzeria from the landlord who owned the building combined with his father’s declining health, Natale decided to walk away from business altogether.
The “pizza man” sold the pizzeria and became a Con Edison electrician. Throughout the years, he helped friends open their own pizzerias and bars but never lost his own love for baking and cooking.
So he decided to sign up for the Food Network show “Cooks vs. Cons,” which he and his wife, then-girlfriend, used to watch on television.
The show pitted two professional “cooks” against an amateur or “con” and judges would guess each competitor’s identity.
“She always said, ‘You could do that,'” which Natale proved true by winning his episode in late 2016.
His win brought him to the realization that he wanted to return to industry and took over the space of the former Villa Bagels, which his uncle entrusted to him when he retired. He named it Bagel Parlor as a combined homage to his new craft and his father’s Bellerose pizza parlor.
Natale learned that the bagel industry differed from making pizza in that there was earlier start and end times, which allowed him to spend more time at home with his wife Julia and their two children, Adrianna and Vito.
While he runs Bagel Parlor, Natale maintains his full-time position at Con Ed and also serves as an assistant football coach at St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows.
In addition to classic bagels, Natale puts his own twist on baked goods by making what he deemed “the best pizza bagels in the city.” On the weekends, he likes to get creative by rolling out paninis, upside-down Sicilian pizza and Detroit-style pizzas for customers to try.
“I want to make better products for the customers. Without them, we wouldn’t be here,” said Natale.
Bagel Parlor is open Monday to Friday from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.