The Bagel Deli: Small business with a big following

Michelle Di Gangi
Posted by Michelle Di Gangi
Small Business Banking

In this installment of our “Customer Wise” Q&A series with business owners who are also customers, we met with Joe Kaplan, co-owner of The Bagel Deli in Denver. In this Q&A, Joe shares with us how the business has been able to maintain its success throughout slowdowns and surges after 50 years of being in business, in addition to useful information for the aspiring small business owner.

Joe & Rhoda Kaplan side-by-side in the deliWhat I found particularly interesting was that The Bagel Deli was featured on The Food Network show, “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” I truly enjoyed learning tips on how to make the perfect matzo balls and brisket knishes, especially because those two foods bring back great memories from my childhood. My grandfather and father (who was a young boy at the time) emigrated from Vienna at the same time Rhoda’s grandmother did (see details below), and those two dishes were a favorite. I can’t wait to incorporate some of the tips I learned from the show next time I make either dish!

Q: The Bagel Deli has been in business for 50 years! That’s no easy feat. What would you attribute the deli’s longevity to? A: I would say it’s a combination of things. We have a connection to the local community and prepare quality food that keeps customers coming back. In addition, we have a loyal and committed staff, and, above all, we love what we do!

How did you become the owner of The Bagel Deli, and how were you able to handle the transition?

My in-laws, Lola and Paul Weiner, began the business in 1967. I married their daughter Rhoda in 1972. Rhoda and I took over running the business in 1991 when my father-in-law became ill.

I’m sure you’ve encountered some challenges being in the restaurant business. What has been the biggest?

The biggest challenge is maintaining the quality in an ever-changing landscape. We strive to consistently provide the finest food and service possible. This also meant changing our menu to stay current, without changing our signature deli feel. We added a full breakfast in the early ’80s and hamburgers to the menu during the last economic slowdown in 2007. Both additions added considerably to our overall appeal.

Many customers visit The Bagel Deli several times a week. What do you think keeps them coming back?

We call this the “Cheers” Factor — everybody knows your name when you walk in The Bagel. It’s a sense of belonging to the community and being comfortable with the camaraderie in the restaurant and the quality of the food served in a family atmosphere. People return often because they know they will get the same service and quality food every time they come to The Bagel.

Do you have a signature dish? If so, what makes it distinctive/popular?

Homemade is our signature. The majority of the food we serve is made in-house. Our chicken soup with matzo balls and the Classic Reuben are the signature dishes we serve. The soup recipe is based on the soup Rhoda’s grandmother made in Vienna before coming to the United States in 1939. She and her two daughters were sponsored to Denver by family members, and her father made his way to Denver by escaping the Nazis later the same year.

How have you weathered slowdowns — or surges – in business volume over the years?

Slowdowns are always problematic. Like any business, we are subject to fluctuations in the economy. When there is a slowdown, we have to react in such a way as to not compromise our quality. We look to buy better, that is, cut expenses where possible. Waste control becomes more important than ever.

Being featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” on Food Network was a wonderful opportunity for our business. Becoming known nationwide was a tremendous boom for us. Our customer base expanded and diversified. Tourist visits increased because of the following of the show. We became a destination restaurant in Denver. Our challenge was to meet the demands of a larger clientele. We added staff in the kitchen and servers and bus people to the restaurant to handle the increased traffic flow.

In addition, we told our employees that we needed to maintain our high standards. We couldn’t slip in the quality or our service.

What 3 tips would you give somebody who is just starting a small business?

1. Follow your dream. Create the best business you can and be proud of your creation.
2. Expect the expected and the unanticipated.
3. Be prepared to be consumed while you gain a solid footing in your chosen business.

See other recent Q&As in our Customer Wise series:

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