For Benjies New York Deli, a 41-year-old, second-generation deli in Santa Ana, Brooklyn makes a special onion bagel (it also goes to Nate 'n Al), mixing poppy seed, onion and garlic right into the dough and sprinkling a little on top before baking.
Norm Langer, whose Langer's Deli is across from MacArthur Park, says: "I can't sell a sesame bagel in this neighborhood." Brooklyn delivers his most popular bagels: onion, water and egg. Langer says bagel preferences reflect the change in his neighborhood since 1947, when the area was predominantly Jewish.
Some of the delis that serve these bagels are as long-lived as the bakeries themselves and many are family-owned, some going on the fourth generation.
Friedman believes "quality and on-site owners make a difference in a business, my business too. We all know or knew the parents and the families and there is a pride in getting it right."
In the inner circle
You can feel the family presence in these delis -- the schmoozing, the concern that customers enjoy what they eat. And, though these are rival businesses, the families that own them go way back. When Factor's threw a giant 60th anniversary party this year, owners Debbie Markowitz Ullman, 45, and sister Suzee Markowitz, 50, ran out of corned beef so they called Nate 'n Al to truck some over. Debbie says, "This goes on all the time; we send rye bread when they run low."
Their father, Herman, the original owner of Factor's, began his deli work at Nate 'n Al and one Halloween Debbie and Suzee even dressed as Nate and Al.
Nate 'n Al's David Mendelson went to Brent's Deli for computer lessons to take his restaurant out of "the dark ages."
Bagel mavens all, they agree on a few bagel principles in their restaurants: Serve the bagels only on the day they're delivered. Don't freeze them. Turn leftovers into bagel chips or donate them to charities.
At Langer's, a call comes through to the front desk. It is Friedman ordering his daily lunch to be picked up curbside. It's not the deli's famous pastrami but a salad. "I never eat deli food," he says.
But, almost every morning at his factory, he eats a bagel -- plain, hearth-baked -- with a little butter. "I never get tired of my bagels," he modestly reports.
Jeanson is a freelance writer.