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Introducing the NYC Bagel Diet!
Plus! Update on the Trader Joe's Panhandler!! Quarterly Report!!!
Welcome to Issue #79 of CAFÉ ANNE!
Oh my goodness, you guys. Last week, I ran a Q&A with Marcos, the panhandler who stands outside the Trader Joe’s on Court Street. At the end, I mentioned that Marcus, who is homeless and having a hard time finding work without an address, was saving to buy an e-bike so he can do food deliveries.
Within an hour, I got a generous donation for Marcus from a reader. I was so surprised and touched, I got a little teary. And then another donation came in, and another. By the end of the week there were 27 donations ranging from $5 to $100—for a total of $715. Marcus will be so happy!
A heartfelt thank you to Ramon, Yang-Yang, Matthew, Lacey, Katie, Kelsey, Jeanette, Sukumar, Neeta, Molly, Maria, Marley, Nina, Kristie, Laurel, Tameka, Mariah, Ann, Jessica, Mark, Katie #2, Hazlett, Emma, Courtney, Barbara, Annie and Emily.
I am very excited about this week’s issue, of course. We’ve got a fun feature revealing everything you need to know about Sam Silverman and the NYC Bagel Diet, plus the CAFÉ ANNE State of the Newsletter Quarterly Report. Please enjoy.
Introducing the New York City Bagel Diet!
I first learned of Sam Silverman, founder of New York BagelFest and NYC Bagel Tours, when he wrote to suggest I profile a local bagel roller. It turned out to be a great story. After that, I started following his Instagram, and his feed of bagel news and reviews filled me with envy and confusion. He looked to be scarfing bagels on the daily while remaining athletic and trim. WTF? We arranged a Zoom call.
As it turns out, he put some real effort into creating a routine that lets him eat 10-12 bagels a week without blowing up. And the story of how Mr. Silverman, who is 31 and lives in Greenpoint, left the corporate world to become the city's unofficial bagel ambassador is fun as well. Please enjoy! This Q&A has been edited and condensed.
Good morning! I've had a lot of coffee already. No bagels but a lot of coffee.
This is going to work up your appetite, and you're going to have a bagel for lunch.
That would be so out of character for me. Do you know what I eat for lunch every day? A salad!
Have a whole wheat bagel. That's basically a salad.
So how did you become the NYC bagel guy?
I've always loved bagels. Growing up, my family called me a bageltarian because I ate so many of them. I grew up in Massachusetts eating Dunkin' Donuts and Panera bagels, and still, they were my favorite food. That all changed when I moved to New York and realized that what I thought was my favorite food was a pale imitation of the real deal. I had an Ess-a-Bagel, the original one on 17th and First. It completely blew my mind.
Then I had the epiphany that in the history of New York, there had never been a bagel festival. There's a festival for everything here, but not for New York's iconic food.
Six years ago is when I had the epiphany about BagelFest and started an Instagram account. I was a nobody in the bagel world! I had no food experience, no bagel experience besides eating them. I started to network with the shop owners and establish a reputation as the bagel guy. It took a couple years building up that Instagram account before I threw the first BagelFest.
The first one, in 2019, I was hoping for 150 people. We held it at a community space in Bushwick and we ended up having more than 350 people showing up—way more than I was expecting. The shops weren't there. My girlfriend and I ran around the city the morning of, picking up bagels from all the different shops. It was very DIY, against all these health regulations, I'm sure. But people had a blast.
Last year was a full weekend and we got more than 2000. I'm hoping it gets bigger and bigger and bigger until we take up the entire Javits Center!
A year ago I decided to leave the corporate world to focus on it full time. That started the tours and baking classes. Now I'm trying to build a little bagel empire—without actually making them. Just celebrating all the great artisans and bagel bakers around the city and around the world.
What was your corporate job?
I did strategic operations for a couple of different companies. Most recently, it was at Walmart, helping launch a new grocery service that delivers groceries all the way into your fridge.
Bagels must seem pretty simple after that.
No, quite the opposite. I'm trying to scale from nothing into something, but now I don't have the resources of Walmart behind me.
But it's also way more fun and rewarding. I really care about the work that I'm doing, and the impact it's making on the families and businesses and mom-and-pop shops that are busting their butts, day-in and day-out, to keep this cultural legacy of New York going.
When I wrote to ask how you eat so many bagels without gaining 500 pounds, you said that's one of the most frequently asked questions you get on your bagel tours.
It's always a tongue-in-cheek, like, "How do you look like this? Why aren't you the shape of a bagel?" People are amazed because I eat on average, probably, a bagel-and-a-half every day. When I eat them, I probably eat three at a time. It averages to out to 10-12 over the course of a week.
What's your secret?
When I was getting really serious about this, I met with a nutritionist so I could develop a plan to stay in good and healthy shape.
Did you tell her, "Hey, lady, I'm going to be eating a dozen bagels with cream cheese every week. How do I make this work?"
Pretty much. I was probably one of her more unique clients. But she had a lot of fun crafting a plan for me.
I'm a creature of convenience. I'll eat whatever is quickly available in my fridge. So now, every week, my girlfriend and I batch-make roasted veggies and fruit salad.
The second thing she taught me is that a balanced diet doesn't mean every meal has to be balanced. It's more the overall picture. So just focus on breakfast and lunch, Monday through Thursday, eating really healthy, and don't worry about the rest. Go crazy when you run a bagel tour! Just pick half the week and focus on eating really healthy for those meals—protein shakes, veggies, beans.
Did she actually give you a plan that included a lot of bagels?
She did craft a document for me, but it was more around the healthier meals. I didn't need her help on the other side of things.
She helped me find better substitutes for things that I was already eating, like a high-fiber tortilla instead of white flour one. Or Greek yogurt instead of sour cream.
But I also think that bagels get a bad rap. A regular, non-sweet bagel, it's about 80 calories per ounce. And the average New York bagel is between five to seven ounces. So that's somewhere between 400 and 560 calories. And then cream cheese is 100 calories per ounce, and the average New York bagel has two ounces of cream cheese. It's about 600 calories total. And relative to other breakfast foods, like highly processed cereal, I don't think it's actually that bad.
Let's talk about scooping.
Scooping is digging out the dough on the inside of the bagel to reduce the carb and calorie intake. And I'll say that is absolutely an option for people who are looking to indulge in a bagel but don't want all the calories.
And usually the guy behind the counter will do that on request, right?
Oh yeah, any shop around here.
I always felt like it was kind of a sissy move.
You know, I am a man of extremes. If you're going to do something, do it all the way. But I'm also pro bagel consumption. So you got to do what you got to do.
I do have one friend in the industry who refuses to scoop. He puts his blood, sweat, tears and heart into making these bagels. He takes offense when people ask him to scoop out the labor of his love. But he's just one of those curmudgeonly, behind-the-counter bagel guys that add to the overall character and charm of the city's bagel scene.
The other trick that people think they're taking, that's actually not, is the flagel. The flagel is a flattened bagel. They smush the dough down before they bake it. A lot of people order that, thinking that they're eating less bagel, but it's actually the same amount of dough, it's just been smushed. So scooping, good! Flagel, you're fooling yourself.
Does it help that you're giving all those walking tours?
I am pretty active. I'm out and about all the time. But I don't actually walk that much. I'll show you why. Have you seen this on my Instagram? This is like an electric skateboard. I give tours from on top of this Onewheel.
I also do 40-50 minutes of high intensity cardio and strength training 3-5 times a week, and I'm pretty consistent about that.
So you see shops all over the city. How are they faring?
They're doing quite well. I see a lot of expansion. Bagels are in the zeitgeist, gaining in popularity and recognition. Both in and outside of New York, bagels are on the rise.
Bon Appetit just had their list of the best bagel shops outside of New York and there's representation from 20 different states across the country. So there's a lot of room to grow here.
And even in New York City, which seems bananas, there's still bagel deserts everywhere. It's such a hyperlocal thing that shops are jumping in to fill those gaps, wherever they can, wherever it makes sense.
What's behind the bagel boom?
The internet has democratized a lot of information that previously was a really closely guarded secret here in New York and Montreal. I've talked to so many operators from all over the country who are like, "Yeah, I just watch the videos on YouTube and figured it out myself."
I think they're maybe not doing things necessarily the traditional way because of that, but they're doing it good enough that they're successful in their communities.
What are some of the newer bagel trends?
The biggest trend is the non New York-style bagel having quite a bit of success. It's smaller, it's lighter, it's not as dense. They're insanely popular, people are loving them. That style of bagel has taken off across the country. But even within New York, it's finding success.
Now, it's highly controversial. There are a lot of people who feel like they're not real bagels, it's bread with a hole in the middle. But there's not one prescriptive way to make a bagel. There's room for everybody under this tent. So come on in!
And what's happening in topping land?
I was a math major in college, so I got really curious about just how many combinations there are. I've calculated that in the standard bagel shop, there's roughly 160 million unique combinations between the bagels and the spreads and the toppings.
This is where the creativity shines. Some of my favorite bagels are the ones that are more unique—the Zaatar bagel from Olde Brooklyn Bagel Shoppe in Prospect Heights, it's amazing. The Szechuan peppercorn bagel from Shelsky's haunts my dreams. You can do anything with it.
What's the strangest you've seen lately?
We did a whole "Which is Weirdest" bracket game with real orders that people submitted. The one that surprised me the most, by how good it was, was an everything bagel with veggie cream cheese, peanut butter and hot sauce. It reminded me of a pad Thai because it had the veggies and creaminess and the peanut and the spice on a bagel.
But people are sick! People do some weird, disgusting things. Grape jelly with egg salad. Peanut butter with lox. Cinnamon raisin bagels with scallion cream cheese. There are people that swear by that.
And blueberry bagels in general. I just don't understand the blueberry bagel. It's the most popular bagel in the country. A blueberry bagel. Can you believe that?
It's wrong! It's wrong. There's just so many better options out there. Why would you go with that? I guess the amount of possibilities is a blessing and a curse—when we can see the dark side of humanity.
My last question: if you could only have one bagel order to eat for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Everything bagel, scallion cream cheese, not toasted. It has to be fresh, but you never toast a fresh bagel. I eat that all the time. That's my litmus test that I use to comparison shop, apples-to-apples. It's always been my favorite and always will be my favorite.
Maybe I'll try that for lunch!
Where Do Story Ideas Come From?
Every quarter, I issue a report on the state of CAFÉ ANNE, much the way Amazon and ExxonMobil report their quarterly earnings—only I don’t file with the SEC. Not yet!
I am pleased to report that in the past three months, CAFÉ ANNE added 1,100 subscribers, bringing the total to 7,100. Yippee! A big hyper-caffeinated welcome to all the new readers. I am very glad you are here.
Most of the new folks, I should note, come by way of recommendations from other Substack newsletters. There are now 125 newsletters recommending CAFÉ ANNE, and I’m grateful for each.
Over the past three months, meanwhile, the number of paid subscriptions grew just 3%, from 233 to 240. The slow growth on this front is due to the fact that while the newsletter got 38 new subscribers, an unusually large number of existing supporters did not renew. Nonetheless, I am happy that so many continue to support CAFÉ ANNE with money money money even though all the content is free and will hopefully remain so.
Winner and Losers
Looking back, it’s always fun to see which issues did best and which bombed. This quarter, the best performing issue—by far!—was Book Quest Impossible, an account of Brooklynite Jacob Ready’s ongoing crusade to visit and review every independent bookstore in NYC. It got 129 likes and 131 comments. I suspect that’s because it touched on several topics that are sort of pre-approved by the Substack crowd: books, independent shops and nerdy pastimes.
The worst-performing was Lost Pets of New York, an account of a NYC couple’s efforts to photograph and catalogue 230 lost pet posters found in all five boroughs. It got just 57 likes and 36 comments. Why? Who knows! I’ve given up trying to predict. You guys are bananas and nuts and crackers!
Ideas Are Everywhere!
Finally, I’ve had some folks asking lately where I get story ideas. As you know, I love a good chart, so I thought I’d analyze the past twelve months to see where the stories originated.
Leaving aside regular features like Eric Adams Watch, Pigeon of the Month and Weird Trash Photo, I reported 70 stories over the past year. Here’s the breakdown:
Ten percent of the ideas came from reading the news. When I learned of an upcoming hearing at City Hall about a proposed NYC guinea pig ban, for example, I knew I had to write about it. Aside from a college journalism student, I was the only reporter there!
Ten stories—15% of the total—came from walking around NYC and spotting someone or something that looked intriguing. Some examples are the profile of Mother Pigeon and my tour of the city’s bonkers community fridge scene.
Then there’s the cases where one story leads to another. When I wrote about a big Manhattan pet hospital for a business publication, for instance, an executive happened to mention a local pet ambulance service. What? I tracked the company down and the result was Meet Don Montes, Pet Ambulance Driver.
A lot of stories—about 20%—came from random questions that popped into my head, like wondering about the personality differences between Android and iPhone users, or NYC bodega workers’ favorite snacks.
But the most frequent source of story ideas, it turns out, are CAFÉ ANNE readers! Which makes me so happy! If it weren’t for your questions and requests, I’d never have written about the Charging Bull, the Bagel Shop Next to the Bagel Shop, or another 15 of my favorite stories. So please keep your fantastic suggestions coming!
CAFÉ ANNE is a free weekly newsletter created by Brooklyn journalist Anne Kadet. Subscribe to get the latest issue every Monday!