By Ed Hersh
Storied H&H Bagels, which closed on 80th at Broadway in 2011 and reopened on Columbus Avenue between 85th and 86th Streets in 2016, has gone through yet another reboot and reopened the Columbus location Monday with a major renovation and a new concept.
The store was closed for several weeks for construction and now features new brighter lighting, new floors and tiled walls, new tables and chairs, and an airy, friendly vibe. Modern high-tech bagel ovens have been installed. The menu has been streamlined but still features a wide variety of bagels along with spreads and salads. And on opening day, there was a steady stream of both local residents and students on lunch break coming in both to eat and check out the new digs.
But the biggest change, according to Ryan Klepper, recently installed as director of retail operations for the company (and a former director of operations at Tavern on the Green), is that this store will now serve as a flagship to “potentially franchise H&H across the country.”
In planning the renovation and food service, Klepper said, ‘’the emphasis is now on four things: speed, efficiency, cleanliness, and likeability.” The food preparation has been retooled to be more like an assembly line, where you select your bagel and your order is then put together in front of you… like Subway, Sweetgreen or Chipotle.
“What if bagels simply took the place of burritos?” Klepper asked. He told us it’s designed so you can see your food being prepared and give additional instructions to those making your order. “The goal is to take your order and fill it within 5 minutes. You have to be able to handle orders quickly even when there’s a rush.”
In fact, on this opening day, the friendly and gregarious Klepper frequently interrupted our conversation to greet customers and ask, “How long did it take for you to get your order?”
Of course, it is no longer owned by the original H&H on Broadway, which through several bankruptcies was split off to create “H&H Midtown East” years ago. Those owners operate this store and another on 2nd Avenue. They bought the rights in 2018 to use the simple “H&H Bagels” name, which this store carries.
Klepper says they are thrilled to be reopened after the pandemic and investing in this new space. It is currently open 7am to 3pm, but he says they’ll consider extending those hours if business warrants. And one day, we may see H&H Bagels cropping up in other cities.
This is New York. We don’t need a franchise concept for bagels!
Bagels are a product as well as a sandwich base so the only question for me is how good are the bagels? “Modern high tech ovens” are not necessary for good bagels. If the bagels are great, I’ll be there. But if they wanted to try out a generic franchisable “concept” surely there are cheaper places to try it than on the UWS
Yeah it worries me that they say they’re emphasizing “speed, efficiency, cleanliness, and likeability.” None of those words is “taste.” If you hand me a bad bagel prepared in three minutes flat with a huge smile from a clean counter… you still handed me a bad bagel.
If they’re good, they’re good. But if they’re not… they’re not. So I’m hoping they’ll be good.
I bet they spent big bucks on market research and UX to come up with those 4 core values. That speaks volumes about whom they view as their target customers, and they are not folks who know a good bagel when they eat one.
Maybe Huh and Bob can try the bagels and get back to us.
Or just assume the worst and kvetch.
Perhaps I will, but it’s noteworthy that nowhere do the owners speak of quality bagels, just efficiency and franchising. No mention of proper boiling then baking, how often will they be made, flavors etc: Everything BUT the bagel.
Any one know what has happened at Absolut Bagels?
They are open but they don’t seem to be baking the bagels there and the line moves soooo sloooowly.
They DO bake the bagels there and, in my opinion – others may differ, the bagels are very good. But the line is always VERY long. 40 years ago most (not all but most) customers went to the bagel store to buy bagels, bialys, etc and take them home. The shops baked on-site and also did a little wholesale business on the side.
The business has changed and the stores are now not just bakeries but sandwich shops. Most of Absolut’s customers come into the store and specify a sandwich (toasted? schmeer? nova? tomato?, etc) which takes time to prepare. The store has gotten a lot of good press which has made it a go-to place for tourists, in addition to the students and long-term residents.
I DO wish they had a separate line so you could walk in, ask for “3 everything, 2 plain, and 1 onion” and get out quickly. Sigh, the world changes.
I know. For years I’ve been nagging Zabar’s to put in a dedicated counter and checkout for regulars who just want a pound of coffee and a loaf of rye bread, but they make me stand in line with everyone else.
Ugh, the assembly line format. Never speedy, never efficient.
And closing at 3. What’s the point? The best thing about the real H&H on 80th/Bway was that they made fresh bagels well into the night so you could get one after work or post-workout (as opposed to a slice of grease-bomb pizza).
Since I have never joined a gym and actually gone more than once or twice until I finally gave up and canceled my membership, I can’t speak to the joys of a post-workout bagel, but I do have fond memories of hot humid nights when it was too hot to sleep so I’d take my basset hound for a midnight walk up to H&H. I’d get a couple of bagels and sit on a neighboring stoop and have one apiece before walking back home.
Bagels and bassets are a great combination. Thanks for sharing this. It made me smile.
So you didn’t like the bagels?
3 pm . this is New York, we only wake up then!
The big question is do they taste the same as they did when H&H were on Broadway? at 80th St???? If they do I will be a return customer.
Not the same—not even close! A bad knockoff. It’s disgusting that they kept the name so they could try and fool people (especially tourists who have heard about H&H on TV shows etc. The only decent bagels in my opinion on the UWS are Absolute.
If the experience I had there, before the renovation, holds, the short answer is no, not even close.
This company owns the name, but the key question is whether they bought the recipe.
That’s disappointing!!! I will give it a try but won’t be back if it’s not the same.
Ha! “speed, efficiency, cleanliness, and likeability” – literally near the last four words I’d use to describe the real H&H that was.
So what’s wrong with the bagels and Zabar’s?
I’m fine with zabar’s, thank you … H&H had their 15min., enough of them!
I find Zabar’s bagels can be iffy. It’s as if there is one bagel maker who isn’t all that good because every now and then you get a batch where the bagel lacks a good crust and it sometimes feels like the proving was off and it’s more bread than bagel. It’s only sometimes but when you get a batch of those it’s very disappointing. H&H never ever had that problem. They were always the same quality == a good NY Bagel.
You know whose bagels are terrible now? Fairway!!
Fairway bagels are worse than packaged bagels in Peoria. A sad emblem for what Shoprite is doing to that store. Sad and infuriating
They should have separate lines for those who want just bagels vs those who want more. I liked his the old one just sold bagels so you can get in and out quick. Before this one closed for renovations they would have long lines as people spent forever pondering what type of cream cheese they want.
Please open one near Columbia.
Gotta say I love watching people here whine before even trying the place.
Nothing more fascinating than an uninformed opinion…
Except literally no one here has done that — the only person “kvetching” and “whining” is you. And, I mean, I guess everyone needs a hobby…
There’s already a franchise of Mamoun’s on the next block so why not franchise H&H too. Maybe someone can open 1,000 new Ray’s Pizzas in airports and malls across the country.
Whenever a restaurant executive talks about franchising a concept that isn’t proven yet, run for the hills. It shows he’s interested in flipping the business and pocketing millions in venture capital.
Shake Shack is a good example of how it should be done.
We have been enjoying Tal Bagels. There is a place in my neighborhood and we like then better than Zabar’s bagels.
Bagels at Tal are now $2 for 1, yes 1 bagel. I’ll go bagel-less for now thanks.
If you haven’t yet, try the bagels at Broad Nosh, at Broadway and 86th (where Williams Chicken used to be).
Yes, you’ll have to wait on line while they make sandwiches, but there are usually enough people behind the counter who can take orders for just bagels. And they’re nice people.
And, most important, the bagels are good and nearly always very fresh. It isn’t H&H, but then again (from the sound of this article and the comments) neither is H&H.
I go to Broad Nosh fairly regularly, they have pretty good rolls for e.g. bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches, and the overall quality is fine. But I don’t think their bagels are anything to write home about. In my experience they’re too bready and overly sweet. Not terrible, but I think you’re better off with Tal Bagels up B’way.
Again, Mark’s Off Madison, if you want to taste a bagel as it was made when there was a bagel union.
Today’s bagels are much too large, too soft, have too much
bread and not enough crust, and, most importantly, lack flavor.
…and the holes are too big!
Had a nova, cream cheese on a toasted poppy for lunch today, April 5th. Liked the vibe of the space, thought customer service was great and they were actually fairly crowded so good for them. But the bagel sandwich? Meh. Kinda bready, not a crust you can sink your teeth into, just “ok”. But can’t say I’d go back.
There’s an H&H bagels inside the new Moynihan Train Hall at Penn Station and the bagels are dull as can be…. indeed “speed, efficiency, cleanliness, and likeability” do not equal “taste”. The best bagels on the Upper West Side are now at Broad Nosh on 86th Street. Tell only your closest friends… also, while we’re at it — bring back 24-hour bagel bakeries… The legendary 24-hour bagel bakeries in Montreal are still open (Fairmount, St. Viateur), in a town far smaller than ours…. I thirst for a fresh bagel at midnight.. or 1am.. or 2am… etc.
I don’t know that they compare favorably to “real” H&H but the H&H in Moynihan Station is waaaaaay better than Zaro’s for bagels, which is what we were sadly stuck with in the “old” Penn Station. (To be fair, it’s not Zaro’s bagels that are awful; it’s the so-called cream cheese. . . .) And I never mind efficiency in a train station; that’s worth a little trade-off on quality. They were super-speedy last time I was there. They did 10 people in under 6 minutes, and everyone had complicated orders.
Try Lennie’s bagels on Bway at the northwest corner of 98th. Good bagels freshly made,courteous and quick service.
I actually prefer Lenny’s than Absolut. I buy my dozen + 2 free about every 2 weeks. My son loves their “My Ex” of cheddar/ jalapeño. Good crust, not too doughy. Their coffee is super fresh & tasty as well.
Not only does Lenny’s make great bagels, but their variety can’t be beat! I tried Absolute once and didn’t get what all the hoopla was about. To each their own I guess.
Yes, I don’t like the franchise idea. But if they can get it close, I’ll go. Nothing will match the old H&H – best memories from that place. And they were pretty efficient!
So…it’s only H&H because they bought the name? The real H&H didn’t care if they were likable, if the linoleum was cracked, if there was sawdust on the floor. They didn’t even make sandwiches. They did one thing and did it better than anyone else: Bagels.
This place may be fine – good even – but it will never be H&H. That they call themselves that is a turn off to me.
At least they’ll pay their taxes, I bet.
Forgot about the sawdust on the floor—fabulous! Too bad a little criminal activity by its owner ruined bagels for all of us!
People sleep on Lenny’s Bagels on the Corner of West 98th Street and Bway. Almost never a line. Very good bagels. A bit smaller than Absolut but the quality is excellent. Won’t be disappointed.
These reviews remind me of Big Nick’s, on Broadway, who HAD great pizza- I miss him mightily.
He also had a number of satellite stores, in the end just one, off of Columbus south of 72nd. But they closed too.
And then they reopened! I saw the sign for Big Nick’s pizza, went in, had a slice.
Ugh. How dare they! Not even close, never went again. Nick’s dead and gone in Greece and someone either expropriated the sign or the name or perhaps Nick sold them rights but I repeat:
Ugh; not Nick’s.
The “Big Nick’s” store off Columbus had not been owned by Big Nick from Broadway for many years. See WSR’s “The Amazing True Story of the Return of Big Nick’s, Sort Of”, May 4, 2018, describing the 2018 new owners as having bought from prior owners unrelated to the Big Nick we knew and loved on Broadway.
The new look is certainly brighter and more inviting than the old dark cavern, where on a good day you might see two or three people hunched silently over their food like something out of an Edward Hopper painting, and you got a faceful of resentment if you wanted to buy a bagful of bagels (usually semi-stale)sans schmears. But what’s being described by the owners is not a bagel shop: it’s a fast-food sandwich place where mayo-packed fillings are slapped between bagel halves. Not the worst thing in the world, maybe; such shops are very big in the Jersey suburbs where my family lives. And, depending on the prices, it may do very well with the ravenous kids who pour out of Brandeis High every day. But I’d as soon have a real bagel bakery like the original H&H.
I’m remaining positive and pleased to hear about H & H ‘s return to the UWS. A new, clean, brighter interior is always more pleasant for any business. If franchising works out, wish them well in this next new adventure.
I like the old rat infested leaky roof 24/7 H&H bagel on 80th and Broadway “Verizon Wireless”… It gave you that old rustic taste flavor back in the late 70’s When you’re coming home from the clubs on a Saturday night you had to make that stop at H&H.
By the way did you know that Zabar’s bought their bagels from H&H and resold them to you for two dollars more! Because you did not want to go into H&H and get your mink coat dirty thinking Zabar’s was much better than theirs! LOL!
Wonder if they’ll be interested in catering to the gluten-free crowd as well?
modern bread and bagel is decent glut free option for me
my opinion only
Can’t francise outside of NY, because it’s all about the water.
Let’s see: Not kosher, close early, apparently not tasty… Nothing like the old H&H…
What’s everyone’s selection for best kosher bagels on the UWS right now?
The only kosher certified place is Bagels & Co on Amsterdam. Everyone else has bagel flavors that aren’t kosher or serve non kosher sandwich fillings, effectively rendering all ptheur products not kosher.
(Modern Bagel is kosher but only has gluten free products)
When you going to renovate the store at 2nd avenue people there are very friendly but the store look ugly old very old . And tve bagels there tasted better than columbus
This robust comment thread about bagels is the kind of content I come to WSR for. Well done all around, everyone.
My wife had a smoked salmon and I had a whitefish. The bagels were tiny and just okay and they were pretty skimpy on the fish. Theres definitely better options locally. I also had a black & white which was again, ok. Kind of doughy. Only plus was their large iced coffee was actually large unlike what other places locally claim as large. Comparable to Dunkin’s size-wise. But otherwise H&H is a pass for us unfortunately.
For the last few years before H&H on 80th closed, they pretty much sucked. All sweet and fluffy, they tasted more like a dessert pastry than a real bagel. While not perfect, I get mine from Absolute these days. Even Fairway and Zabar’s are better than the latter days of H&H. Before they went bad, H&H was the bomb, though
Really only a step up from a Dunkin bagel. I will stick to absolute
The H&H layout is improved. Better flow, less bottleneck.
Prices are higher and for less choice and lower quality. Our “everything” bagel had hardly anything on it. Apparently there is profit to be made in poppy seeds and dried spices?
Cleanliness is not happening. I observed an employee near the counter in filthy stained tshirt remove his mask, rub and pick his nose, wipe his mucus hand on his pants, and go to work in the kitchen. No sink, no sanitizer, no thanks.