H&H Bagels reigned Uptown for 40 years: In its comeback — first on the Upper East Side in 2014, and now as a chain — the company hopes to be the best-known bagel shop in the country.
Two NYC locations will open in March or April — one in Penn Station (Penn 1 LIRR concourse, 32nd Street at Seventh Avenue), and the other in Kips Bay (429 Third Avenue at East 30th Street). The bigger play is the nationwide franchise rollouts, starting with Boca Raton and Chicago, followed by the first of ten locations over several years in Washington, D.C. Los Angeles will get at least one shop this year, and, toward the end of 2024, expect Dallas and Boston.
There could be more, depending on construction, says CEO Jay Rushin. In preparation for the rollout, the company graduated from the company logo he “drew on the back of a napkin” to new branding.
The new stores will serve bagels that are shipped from a production facility in Woodside, Queens. Two weeks ago, the company opened a 20,000 square-foot bakery that can produce 9,000 bagels an hour. At the new locations, bagels will be kettle-boiled and parbaked, then frozen and shipped to stores, where they’ll be finished in special ovens. The only location of the four currently open that boils and bakes them in house is the Upper East Side shop. (Other currently open locations include the Upper West Side, JFK and LaGuardia airports, as well as Moynihan Hall.)
Founded in 1972 by Helmer Toro and Hector Hernandez, the original H&H Bagel was as classic as it gets — the New York Times said of H&H that it was the neighborhood’s “most celebrated destination for what is quite possibly the Upper West Side’s most iconic food.” The shop was famous among locals and tourists alike, fueled by name checks in shows like Seinfeld and Sex and the City.
In 2010, Toro was indicted for tax fraud, grand larceny, falsifying records, and violating labor law, and had to spend 50 weekends in jail and pay a $500,000 fine. In 2011, H&H Bagels filed for bankruptcy, closed the original Upper West Side shop, followed by Midtown shuttering in 2012. In the aftermath, in 2014, Rushin says he bought the name and the assets, including a lone location on the Upper East Side at 1551 Second Avenue at East 81st Street that’s still open. A former Wall Streeter, Rushin says he wanted to buy a brand that was “an interesting business to acquire,” and unlike Wall Street, “was not cyclical.”
While the original cash-only H&H sold just bagels, never sliced or toasted, by 2016, Rushin says the shops expanded the menu to include sandwiches, and more business shifted from breakfast to lunch. Today, three-quarters of New Yorkers get their H&H bagels toasted, Rushin says. And the Upper East Side shop is the busiest — for now.