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Bagel Maker Looks to Fill Hole Left by H&H

By Leslie Albrecht | October 18, 2011 6:29am | Updated on October 18, 2011 7:08am

UPPER WEST SIDE — The closure of legendary H&H Bagels has left a hole on the Upper West Side that a Queens baker is hoping to fill.

Woodside-based Davidovich Bagels wants to open a flagship store on the Upper West Side, and it has set its sights on the darkened West 80th Street and Broadway storefront where H&H Bagels stood for nearly 40 years.

Marc Fintz, director of business development for Davidovich Bagels, says his company is in talks with landlord Friedland Properties about leasing the 2,100 square-foot storefront at 2239 Broadway.

A represenative for Friedland Properties declined to comment.

Sliding into H&H's old spot, considered by some to be the center of the bagel universe, would be a coup for Davidovich, said Fintz, who once worked at H&H Bagels.

"If you’re an insider in the bagel business, the Upper West Side is your proving ground," Fintz said. "If you can establish yourself there, you’re king of the hill."

Upper West Siders were devastated when the financially troubled H&H closed its doors in June. Though some complained about the steep $1.40 price for a bagel, many locals and out-of-towners made a Sunday morning ritual out of visiting H&H to pick up freshly baked bagels.

Almost as soon as H&H closed, other bagel sellers moved in on its territory. Within days, rival Bagels & Co. stationed an employee outside H&H's empty window with a sign beckoning bagel fans to its store on Amsterdam Avenue and West 79th Street, neighborhood blog West Side Rag reported.

"There's no go-to bagel spot anymore," said Zabar's general manager Scott Goldshine. As a result, Zabar's has been selling more bagels than it did when H&H was in business, said Goldshine, who used to stock Zabar's bakery with H&H bagels, but now sells another brand he declined to name.

Fairway's bakery manager also reported that the grocery was selling more bagels than ever. Managers for Absolute Bagels, another popular bagel choice on Broadway and West 107th Street, couldn't be reached for comment.

Fintz says Upper West Siders are desperate for a high-quality, traditional bagel, and he believes Davidovich is the bagel maker to fill that void.

Founded in 1998, Davidovich is a wholesaler that provides to stores such as Whole Foods (where they cost 99 cents) and Barzini, a grocery store on Broadway and West 90th Street.

The bagels, which are kosher, are made using old-world, labor-intensive techniques, Fintz said. They're hand rolled and boiled in kettles, instead of rolled with machines and steamed. That makes for a tastier, better-textured bagel, Fintz said.

The company recently won praise from Maria Balinska, author of "The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread," who named Davidovich New York's best bagel, singling them out for their "savory sweetness" and "crunchy and chewy" texture.

But critical acclaim doesn't pay the bills, and Fintz admits Davidovich faces a serious stumbling block in its bid for the H&H space — the steep rent.

Friedland Properties is asking $950,000 a year, but Fintz is hoping to talk them down, he said.

If Davidovich moves into West 80th and Broadway, Fintz is hoping Upper West Siders will embrace the brand, just as they did H&H.

"It was the 80th Street store that made H&H a household name," Fintz said. "Upper West Siders grow up, go to college, travel the world, but they maintained their connection with H&H.

"A whole generation of very successful people, who are highly educated and on solid financial footing, those people took [H&H] with them all over the world and created the taste and desire for H&H."