New York City’s H&H Bagels is celebrating 50 years of serving and delivering bagels “like no other bagel in the world.”
Since 1972, H&H Bagels has been a New York City staple for all things bagel. Originally founded by Helmer Toro, the brand opened its first location in Midtown and throughout the 70s, opened a handful of locations, including one on the Upper East Side, located at 1551 2nd Avenue.
After some financial issues, ownership of H&H Bagels split, with the Upper East Side location going under separate ownership from the other stores. In 2011, most of the H&H Bagels went under and many stores closed, but the one on the Upper East Side remained.
H&H Bagels CEO Jay Rushin joined the team in 2014 and during his time in the franchise, H&H has expanded with new locations on the Upper West Side (526 Columbus Avenue) and in Moynihan Train Hall (350 West 33rd Street), plus two locations in both JFK and LaGuardia Airports. When he started, Rushin notes that H&H Bagels had a huge walk-in business, with consistently long lines at each location. However, with the pickup in delivery orders, those lines have dwindled despite sales still going very well.
“When I took over in 2014, there were lines down the block every Saturday and Sunday for hours and hours,” said Rushin. “We never really have lines anymore because 60% of our business is delivery now. We have much shorter lines because we have more deliveries going out than people coming in these days.”
H&H Bagels was often the go-to spot for New Yorkers to grab a bagel (or a dozen) with one of their housemade spreads. The Nova sandwich, which has smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomato, capers and onion, was also a popular choice among its customers. However, around 2015 Rushin felt it was time to add something to the menu that H&H had been lacking: the egg sandwich.
“When I took over the business we didn’t even have egg sandwiches. We installed a grill I think in 2015-2016, so that’s been a big change in our specific business. That’s our most popular highest volume business now is egg sandwiches,” said Rushin. “That’s what I thought when I took over, why don’t we sell egg sandwiches? We almost burned our building down installing our grill. The spread sandwiches and the Nova sandwiches are still super popular. That’s why we didn’t do as much lunch business as we could have back then.”
Throughout the years, H&H Bagels not only built up a substantial New York City business, but also a powerful global wholesale business and a nationwide shipping business. However, like many businesses in the city, H&H Bagels took a huge hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rushin says that within 10 days of the shutdowns, in-store sales dropped around 80%, and business with the airports fell 99% in the first two weeks. Naturally, the wholesale business and nationwide shipping slowed down, but things took an unexpected turn that gave the team at H&H Bagels hope.
“Probably about 4 weeks in, we saw our national and wholesale shipping business explode. Pre-pandemic, the month of December would account for 40% of the nationwide shipping business. We were doing December sales every month starting in May of the pandemic,” said Rushin. “On the national wholesale side, we were getting calls from groceries all over the country to get product in their stores. That went up 400%, and nationwide shipping went up 500%.”
Since local delivery was already a pillar of H&H’s business already, the brand managed to stay afloat over the course of the pandemic shutdowns.
“With the grocery aspect of it, you could order a dozen bagels and a pound of cream cheese and have it delivered, and that could last you a week. That kind of helped rather than a typical restaurant where you have to eat it sooner,” said Rushin. “We survived, we did fine. The sudden shifts were quite stressful. But we made it through.”
Rushin says that since New York City has opened back up, business at H&H Bagels is better than ever, particularly on the retail side of the business, with the stores reaching sale numbers that matched those before the pandemic.
“We’re at 2019 numbers in our retail locations. As you can imagine, our nationwide shipping has slowed in those numbers but those were kind of unsustainable,” said Rushin. “I guess the biggest surprise is how well retail doing compared to pre-pandemic.”
This summer, H&H Bagels is celebrating 50 years in business. That in itself is a big accomplishment for the H&H team, especially considering that COVID-19 claimed a number of small businesses in New York City.
“We’re super excited to be celebrating 50 years, it’s quite a milestone in this day in age to even make it to 50 years,” said Rushin.
To celebrate the anniversary, H&H Bagels has created some merchandise with the vintage H&H Bagels logo on it that will be sold in stores. The brand is also launching a social media campaign encouraging users to share their memories of H&H Bagels. Over the next few months, the team will pick their favorite memories and send the poster a box of bagels, spreads and merchandise.
Rushin also says to keep an eye out as H&H Bagels has plans to expand the brand even further, and even beyond the Big Apple.
“We’re taking the brand nationwide. We’ve got some deals pending here that we’re excited to announce soon,” said Rushin. “With all of our history and 50 years in business, we’ve got brand recognition nationwide. Anytime we talk about opening in new cities, we get a lot of feedback saying ‘Come to our city!’ We’re working on it! We think we’ve got a great brand, a great product, and a grat customer experience to offer the whole country.”
For more information or to order online, visit hhbagels.com.