Discover more from CAFÉ ANNE
The Bagel Shop Next to the Bagel Shop!
Plus! Spidey's Amazing Bicycle Contraption!!
Welcome to Issue #54 of CAFÉ ANNE!
I had a lot of people writing in last week to tell me what a clever idea it was to offer an official CAFÉ ANNE 2023 Weird Trash Calendar. Confession: it was not my idea! The genius is reader (and good friend!) Nadia K. in South Slope. Nadia you are the best!
The first printing of calendars is sold out, by the way, but another shipment is coming soon, and it’s not too late to order one in time for Xmas. Details below.
Big CAFÉ ANNE holiday foxes bearing diamonds shout-outs, meanwhile, to new paid subscribers GMarkC, Slickdpdx, Medha M, Liz and Luke C. Yes, CAFÉ ANNE is free, but paid subscribers enjoy the real freedom that comes from unburdening oneself of $50 a year or $5 a month. Not to mention my very sincere appreciation for your support.
I’m super excited about this week’s issue. First, we have an account of my recent encounter with Spidey and his amazing bicycle/shop/home on wheels. Second, a feature suggested by reader Michael E. in LA (who is also the creator of the always delightfulnewsletter). After learning about two bagels shops operating next door to each other in Staten Island, he urged me to investigate. Thank you Michael! Any day that includes a trip to Staten Island is a good day, but this one was extra fun.
Spidey’s Amazing Bicycle Contraption!
Last Sunday, I was walking up Seventh Avenue in Manhattan when I spotted an unusual contraption parked in the street. It was some sort of bicycle…thing. I asked the apparent owner if I could snap a photo, and he said that’d be fine.
As you can see, it’s a Citi Bike hitched to a shopping cart with a bar-b-cue on top which is hooked to a smaller cart fitted with several milk crates and topped with a basket. A large suitcase on wheels brings up the rear.
“What’s happening here?” I asked.
“What’s happening?” The man started singing: “What’s happening is mysterious, is mysterious…”
Then he got serious: “What’s happening actually, is an idea I came up with after Covid-19, with so many homeless people losing their places, not satisfied with the shelters and stuff.”
His name is Spidey and he is also homeless. His bicycle contraption allows him to cycle around the city rescuing items from the trash to refurbish for sale at the informal sidewalk “flea markets” that popped up around Manhattan during the pandemic. His chariot includes a grill so he can heat his meals. It also serves as a getaway vehicle if the cops give him a hard time.
Spidey said he is from Morocco and is a performer. He used to work as a costumed Spiderman in Times Square (hence his street name). He still plays the drums and dances.
“I also have this!” he said, pulling a long metal pole from the jumble in his shopping cart. He then performed an energetic martial arts routine in the bike lane, spinning the pole, kicking his legs and leaping high in the air. It was very impressive.
Then he bent the pole into a hockey stick and proceeded to chase an imaginary puck all up and down Seventh Avenue. I was laughing like crazy until the light changed and he almost got hit by a car. “Watch out!” I screamed.
Spidey showed me a few features of his rig. There is a mirror mounted on the side of the grill for folks trying on scarves and hats. There is a sneaker cleaning kit with spray wash and bleach for spiffing up second-hand shoes. He also had books and albums for sale, and a swivel stool for sitting.
Spidey said he hopes to inspire other homeless folks with his creation. “I want people to see the idea that you can survive by using your brain and what materials are available,” he said. “Not only that, but it brings happiness to the people.”
“It made me happy!” I said.
“Just because that, I will give a small ride just for you,” said Spidey.
He mounted his ride and pedaled about 50 feet up the bike line. A metal pot dropped off the side and hit the pavement with a clang. “Technical issue!” he called out.
“I have to say, it looks hard to pedal because it’s so heavy,” I noted, when he returned.
He blamed this on the bike being in low gear.
I asked Spidey if he was homeless by choice.
No, he said. He is avoiding the notorious shelter system and believes he is on the list for a private room. “As far as looking to be indoors, I am looking forward to that,” he said. “I give them my info. But my mind gets so excited with what I do, I get more excited to keep doing what I’m doing, and not worrying about being on the street.”
His next goal: to fit the bicycle with a curtain-bearing trailer so he can wash up in private. “Hygiene is a big problem when you’re homeless,” he said. “But this is simple, simple stuff, and every material is out there on the street.”
The Bagel Shop Next to the Bagel Shop!
I recently learned, thanks to a reader tip, that in the deepest depths of Staten Island, there are two nearly-identical bagel shops operating right next door to each other.
This reader, Michael E., a former New Yorker who now lives in L.A., encouraged me to investigate: “How did this happen?” he wrote. “Are they bitter rivals? Do they help each other out? Are their customers fiercely loyal to one or the other, or do they just pick the one with the shortest line?”
I set out to investigate one morning last week. To get there, I had to take the 5 train from Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan to the Staten Island Ferry, followed by a trip on the Staten Island Railway to Oakwood Heights —a 90-minute journey each way. But I knew it’d be worth it. I had called both shops in advance and they’d both agreed talk.
Sure enough, just steps from the train station, there are two bagel shops operating side-by-side. Guyon Bagels, at 99 Guyon Avenue, is right next door to Oakwood Bagels, at 101 Guyon Avenue.
Going on instinct, I stopped into Oakwood Bagels first. The owner, Muhammad Qureshi, who is from Pakistan, was behind the counter. I told him he was my first visit of the day.
“That’s what most people do,” he said. “People prefer this place!”
That may be, but Oakwood is actually the newbie on the block. Mr. Qureshi opened his store in 2008—more than a decade after his rival opened next door.
“Bagel-wise, these guys were here first,” he said.
“So you’re the interloper!” I said.
“Yes,” he agreed.
Mr. Qureshi explained that he used to own a bagel shop in Staten Island’s Huguenot section. When he had to relocate, Oakwood Heights looked like a good bet—he was sure the community could support another bagel shop. And the location, steps from the train station, at a busy intersection, was perfect.
Now, both shops operate 24/7 offering hand-rolled bagels baked every morning in-house. But their bagels are very different, Mr. Qureshi said. His Oakwood Bagels rise in a hot water bath before baking. Guyon Bagel, meanwhile, employs the more traditional “kettle” method. It boils the bagels, which lends them a shiny crust and chewier texture.
“I personally feel my bagel is much better,” said Mr. Qureshi. “Of course I’m going to say that. But you’ll see a difference in the size of the bagel. My bagel is a bit bigger. And mine are fluffier. Not too fluffy. Too fluffy is no good either!”
Mr. Qureshi does not make the bagels himself. He has a guy who comes in every morning to mix the dough. “He rolls the bagels and then he bakes the bagels. I couldn’t do it myself,” said Mr. Qureshi. “I could bake them, but I won’t be able to roll them. It’s a different trade.”
His bagel roller works at several different bagel shops in Staten Island, it turns out. It’s a common practice for several NYC bagel stores to share the same roller. Mr. Qureshi also wholesales the bagels baked in his store to several smaller shops that don’t do enough volume to employ their own bagel man.
“So who are the other places that carry your bagels?” I asked.
“I can’t say that.”
“And what’s your bagel roller’s name?” I asked.
“I can’t say.”
“The more secrets the better!” I agreed approvingly.
While we were chatting, an Oakwood Bagel regular stopped in to order lunch. Glyn Caddell, who runs a test prep service down the block, comes by every day—he likes a pumpernickel or sesame bagel. “I come here every morning. I like the food, I like Muhammad! Everyone here is friendly,” he said.
He’s never bothered to try the other store’s bagels, and thinks it’s funny they operate side-by-side. “But if they both survive, why not?”
Mr. Qureshi said he sometimes sees his customers going next door, and it hurts his feelings, but he tries not to take it personally. “They have a choice. If they choose me or them, it’s completely understandable,” he said.
And he does not wish his rival any harm. In fact, they sometimes help each other out—if one runs out of cheese, for example, they’ll borrow a pound from next door.
“Have you ever sold their bagels here?” I asked.
“No!” he said. “That’s the one thing we would not give to each other!”
Heading next door, I was delighted to discover that Guyon Bagel is the same size and has a layout identical to its rival: a self-serve coffee station and drink coolers to the right, beer in the back, deli and register to the left and a single aisle of groceries down the middle. The essential differences: Guyon Bagels has a flat-screen TV airing soap operas, plus a big rack of bananas. Oakwood Bagels has no TV and no banana rack.
Guyon Bagel’s manager, Muhammad Khan (who is also from Pakistan!), was not nearly as secretive as his rival when it came to revealing the identity of his bagel roller. He took me right back to the kitchen and introduced me to Jonathan, who either did not like answering questions or just didn’t speak English, it was hard to tell.
Mr. Khan agrees that the big difference between the two shops is in the bagel. “Their bagels are like a roll. A regular roll! Our bagel is different,” he said. “We boil them first, then put them in the oven. Ours are old-style bagels. Brooklyn-style bagels.”
Guyon bagels are chewier and stay fresher longer, he added. “Their bagel, after two hours, hard like a rock!”
Mr. Khan has been working at Guyon Bagel for three years and said that the store’s owner, Waseem, who only comes in on occasion these days, opened the store 38 years ago.
“We’re the original bagel store,” agreed Alicia, who works at the register.
She’s the newest employee and says people still ask—all the time—why there is a bagel store next to a bagel store.
“What do you tell them?” I asked.
“Most of the people who come here, after going there, all the time they complain about food there,” said Mr. Khan.
I asked if he might fare better if there wasn’t another bagel store next door.
“There’s another across the street,” he said, referring to a nearby convenience store. “It’s three bagel stores. But everyone has different customers. Sometimes our regulars will go next door if we run out of something, but they don’t like it, of course.”
I ordered a toasted sesame bagel with cream cheese from Guyon and then went back to Oakwood to purchase the same thing.
“They say their bagel is the real Brooklyn bagel,” I told Mr. Qureshi as he prepared my order.
“Everyone says kettle bagels are better, but not necessarily,” he replied. “There’s a lot to it.”
“I’ll be the judge of that!” I said.
Neither shop had seating, and it was raining, so I took my bagels back to the train station and sampled them on a bench under a shelter on the platform—the best way to enjoy a bagel!
Both came in a brown paper bag, wrapped in waxed paper and tin foil, accompanied by a wad of napkins. They were roughly the same size, but the Guyon bagel was much heavier. The Oakwood bagel, meanwhile, had a darker toasting and twice as many sesame seeds. They were both loaded with enough cream cheese to supply a cheesecake factory.
I took a bite of each. As promised, the Guyon bagel was dense and chewy. It gave my jaw a real workout! It was also on the sweet side. The Oakwood bagel was lighter, crispier and had a yeastier note. I happily gobbled half of each bagel. Then I went ahead and finished the second half of the Oakwood bagel.
Reader, it’s true. I prefer the Oakwood bagel to the Guyon bagel. Please note that this means nothing. I am often told that my taste in food is just plain wrong. My favorite chocolate is Cadbury Dairy Milk, for example, and my favorite coffee is Café Bustelo.
The two shops, meanwhile, have been operating side by side now for 14 years, and it’s clear that both are doing just fine.
I had asked Mr. Qureshi at Oakwood Bagels if he’d like to drive his rival out of business.
"You know, I believe whatever is in my luck, I’m going to get it.” he said. “No matter what. So it doesn’t really make a difference. I wouldn’t wish bad on anybody. I wouldn’t wish they’d run out of business, and I’m sure they feel the same way.”
Over at Guyon Bagels, Mr. Khan’s response to the same question was a little less layered: “We don’t care.”
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