Ten quick questions for Gail Mayr of Lenas Bagels and Deli, 441 Broad Street, Shrewsbury.
We understand youre quite well-traveled on the local bagel circuit. So where have you worked?
I started at the Bagel Station on Monmouth Street, where I worked for 11 years. Then I was at the Windward Deli, on Maple Avenue for four years. I went to Grandmas Bagels in Little Silver, but it changed hands, and it just wasnt for me. I worked there about eight months. Ive been at Lenas about four months now. Ive known Lena (Maddalena Caruso) for probably 30 years, and she kept asking me to come work with her, but I wasnt too sure about working for a friend. But then I figured, if Im gonna bust my butt, it might as well be for somebody I like.
Have you had other food-industry jobs?
Oh god, yeah! I worked at the Willow Deli in Little Silver; I was there for nine years. Then the owners started the Cherry Street Deli (in Tinton Falls) and they asked me to help start that up, so I was there for a little while. Then I got TMJ and couldnt work for a year, and after that, they were starting a Doms Deli in Fair Haven, and so I went there for a while. When that got a little slow, I went to the Bagel Station. Actually, it was the Bagel Deli part I worked in.
Why so many stops along the deli & bagel trail?
You know, its the funniest thing. I was at the Bagel Deli for 11 years, and Im really more of a deli personDominick Melicia and his wife, Joan, taught me everything I knowcatering, lunches, everything. But Ive baked bagelsI used to do it one day a week at the Bagel Station. I can do everything with bagels except hand-rolling. It looks easy, but it takes a knack. Anybody can do it, but the bagels have to be uniform in size, and thats hard to do.
Whats the most important step in making bagels?
The most important step is proofing the bagel. After they roll the bagels, the dough is at room temperature. You put a vinyl cover over the bagels and the heat from the dough makes it proof. If theyre not proofed theyre going to come out very small and almost hard.
What is it about bagels that people love so much?
Well, in the 80s, the bagels were very big. They just really caught on, because there was no sugar in themthey used malt. That went on for I betcha eight years. But now all of a sudden its wraps. People dont come in and buy dozens of bagels anymore. Really. People would come in, buy a dozen, two dozen, cream cheese, butter and take them to the office. People dont do that anymore.
So do customers follow you from one store to another?
Oh my god, yeah. OHMYGOD! I FOUND YOU! You know what it is? I was at the Bagel Station for so long, and people knew that I wouldnt sell them anything that I thought was bad. If I wouldnt eat it myself, I wouldnt sell it to you. Thats another thing that Dominck taught me. He said, If you want a thriving business, you never sell anything you wouldnt eat yourself. Plus, Im very friendly. I always remember peoples names, ask about their families. I must have that kind of face people confide in. Sometimes, you get a new customer whos just nasty, and I pour it on being nice, and the next time they come in, youd think I was their best friend in the world.
When you say ‘things I wouldn’t eat,’ you’re not talking about things that are just a matter of preference, I presume.
When I worked for (IDENTITY OF A FORMER EMPLOYER WITHHELD TO KEEP redbankgreen FROM GETTING SUED INTO OBLIVION), if he thought something was bad, hed tell you to just wash it off. Somebody would ask for egg salad, and if I knew it was sitting there for two days, Id say, No, you dont want that. So that was their clue.
Whats your favorite bagel?
My favorite bagel is the everything bagel, with butter. Im not a cream cheese person.
Whats your least favorite?
Cinnamon raisin. I just dont know what it isI dont like it.
Which is more important to human happiness, bagels or comfortable shoes?
Oh, jeez. Human happiness? Im going to have to say the shoes.