For Ron Presser co-owner of What A Bagel Café at 476 Mamaroneck Avenue in White Plains, the name of his bagel shop should include an exclamation point to emphasize the importance of the recipe that makes his bagels possibly the best tasting in New York State.
When Ron and his brother David decided they wanted to open a bagel, cream cheese and appetizing shop about 17 years ago they got advice from friends who knew what it takes to make a good bagel. “We use the basic ingredients of flour, water, salt, sugar and yeast,” explained Presser, “but we have a unique and proprietary recipe we developed during the early years of our business and once it was perfected, we never changed it.”
Presser likes to tell the story of a customer who was so impressed by the taste of the bagels at What A Bagel Café that he ran a contest between the White Plains recipe and the well-known H&H Bagels of the Upper West Side in New York City. What A Bagel Café won and with H&H Bagels recently closing its doors, Presser says the competition is out of the way. He is sad to see the New York icon go and attributes the closure to tough times. “The economy runs in up and down cycles he says, but I’ve never seen anything as bad as this recession. Business is okay but it has not gone back to previous levels. People don’t have money to spend and they are brown-bagging it. Here at the street level we feel the economy fall first and we are the last to recover,” he says.
Happy with his location on the south side of White Plains, Presser has regular customers who come in daily. “I serve the residents here,” he notes. Since 1986, the brothers had owned the Imperial Milk Mart, located a few doors down, but wanted a change of landlord and a change of business. When the current location became available back in 1995, they made the move. Existing customers followed and new ones arrived. Presser says his busiest days are Saturday and Sunday from about 6:30 a.m. to 12 Noon.
Open seven days a week, Presser explains that work actually begins around 5:00 a.m. There are 15 varieties of cream cheese to process and 19 types of bagels to make. “Everything is fresh. We get our produce from Apple Farm,” Presser says. “We take 30 pound blocks of cream cheese every day to make the popular flavors, veggie and scallion, plus either strawberry or blueberry, depending on market prices for the fresh fruit. During the good weather we add seasonal flavors such as honey almond.” By far, however, plain cream cheese on a plain bagel is the most popular choice.
The bagels are made on-site as well. “The bagel dough is prepared the day before,” explains Presser, “so it can properly proof [rise].” The following day the bagels are first boiled for one minute in a 40-gallon kettle and then baked for 10 minutes. Presser feels the boiling is especially important because it makes the bagels soft and doughy on the inside and provides a crispy outside. “Most bagel makers go with a steam oven instead of boiling because of the cost,” he explains.
What A Bagel also offers Bialys, shipped in every day from Brooklyn, chopped herring salad, whitefish salad, and baked herring salad, along with lox and Nova salmon. There is a complete deli counter with Boars Head meats and cheeses, flavors of Green Mountain coffee, juice, soda and chips.
On request, catering is offered with the complete fish and other appetizing. “We can get sable, sturgeon, kippered and Nova Scotia salmon,” Presser says, “plus muffins and croissants, drinks, whatever a customer wants. We also support local schools and baseball teams.”
Presser suggests new customers try the ongoing lunch special. “Buy one sandwich and get one at half price,” he says. There is also a coupon at whatabagelcafe.com for special prices on bagels.
The store is open seven days a week: Monday, 6:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; Tuesday through Friday, 6:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.; Saturday, 6:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.; Sunday 6:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.