Friday, March 18, 2005

Ode to a breakfast spot 

I think it's an East Coast thing*: I almost never eat breakfast at home, except for Sunday after church brunch with Littlest (and #1 Son when he's around; Mrs. eschews the practice). I like going to a place, having someone know how I like my eggs and puts the Tabasco next to my plate, keeps the coffee flowing, and throws a few extra hash browns on for me. I can't eat that way any more most days, and thankfully I didn't miss it when I had a breakfast place that was a bagel shop.

But my breakfast place closed its doors almost two weeks ago, and yesterday a copy editor at the St. Cloud Times wrote his paean to Bagelman's.

That's a shame for St. Cloud. In the area's lust to embrace the "next big thing," the little guy got lost in the lurch.

And there's a lot to be said for the little guy.

Even as the store closed, [co-owner Jill] Herr didn't focus on herself. She thought about her regular customers.

"I feel the worst for the regulars because they appreciated the service," Herr said.

"Knowing an order when someone walks in, knowing people's names � that can't be duplicated by larger chains. We said more than 'Hi, here's your order, bye.'"

And they went beyond that. I showed up well past closing a few times, and they'd come to the door and let me in, buttered bagel at the ready.

They'd try to persuade me to break out of my banana-nut bagel with butter habit, usually without success. They were the type of people who made sure they hugged each and every one of their regulars on closing day. But just remembering me was the big thing.

When my last physical showed cholesterol levels above where they should be, Jill and her staff kicked me off my egg sandwich and gave me egg substitute and suggested low-fat cream cheese. We had a guy in the group who liked his coffee extra strong, and they would put out a pot for us with an extra ounce of French Roast.

So, you must wonder, wha'happened? Simply put, there are many of the chains in the Cities that are putting franchises and branches into St. Cloud. The Panera mentioned in the story as set up across the street -- and where most of the posts you've read the last week or so have come from -- is only one. But even more to the point, the strip mall where Bagelman's was had lost two large stores, an Audio King and a Pier 1. With that went the foot traffic and walk-up business that a place like Bagelman's needed to survive.

Many of the people I know in St. Cloud off campus are friends I made at Bagelman's. We'll keep getting together, but sitting in the cookie-cutter Panera storefront isn't going to help me forget the joy of your own breakfast place.

*--though, now that I think of it, the Red Hill Cafe in Rancho Cucamonga fit the bill for me when I lived in southern California, or the Village Inn in Claremont. So maybe not just East Coast.