It’s been a very good shmear!
If you’re Jewish and were raised in Metro Detroit, chances are you’ve grown up eating a warm, familiar delight topped with cream cheese, lox or more. You’ve probably broken a Yom Kippur fast with the delicious treat or spent a Sunday brunch with family not even needing to ask what you would be feasting on — a bagel, a New York Bagel.
This year, Metro Detroit staple New York Bagel celebrates its 100th anniversary, a legacy passed down and owned by four generations of the Goldsmith family.
Howard Goldsmith, 70, the grandson of Morris and son of Harvey, currently runs the business with his son Phil, 39. Phil is set to take full ownership and control of the business as his father eases himself out of the business, with plans to retire next year.
While both Howard and Phil worked at the store growing up, entering the bagel business full time was not the initial plan for either. Fate or not, the Detroit institution sees its centennial led by a father and son, with the generational baton soon to be handed over once again.
New York Bagel began in 1921, when a New Yorker opened the first shop on Hastings Street near Downtown Detroit. In the 1930s, Morris Goldsmith, a Russian immigrant who was an employee since 1923, became a partner with the original owner and another immigrant, William Needelman.
Eventually, in the 1960s, Morris owned the business outright with his son Harvey.
The bagel shop kept moving, following the Jewish community north through Detroit and eventually to the suburbs. Many Detroiters remember the store on Schaefer north of Seven Mile, near the former Ahavas Achim synagogue. Nearly 50 years ago, the flagship store was opened in Ferndale, and later stores in Southfield and West Bloomfield.
Over time, Morris retired, and Harvey was solely at the helm until Howard came along. Howard earned a Ph.D. in speech and hearing sciences and taught at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee before returning to Detroit in the late ’80s looking to switch paths.
“I was an assistant professor, and I wanted to change my career,” Howard said. “My father had always left the door open for me to join him, and I decided to take the plunge in 1987.”
Howard eventually became a partner with his father and gained full ownership and control as his father retired years later.
Soon after Goldsmith took the plunge, the bagel business exploded in the early 1990s. “That’s when Einstein Bros. Bagels and Bruegger’s Bagels came along — they were reacting to the explosion,” Goldsmith said. “What was nice for us is we were there to catch the wave.”
Over 30 years after entering the business and reaping the rewards of the explosion, Goldsmith is ready to hand the reins over to his son, just like his father and grandfather did before him.
While working full time in the bagel business was never the plan, Phil Goldsmith worked at the shop since he was a kid, throughout high school, during college and even after college on the weekends.
After college, he went into public accounting and became a licensed CPA, eventually working at a firm and a small business.
Looking for a change in mid-2014, Phil started talking with his father about potentially transitioning into the family business as well.
“He was overjoyed, I think, because there really wasn’t a transition plan otherwise,” Phil said. “In the back of my head, I always sort of felt the legacy was something I had to keep going. I’ve got a brother and sister but neither of them live in town, and I felt it was time. A small fraction of businesses make it to 100 years and make it to the fourth generation, so I was feeling it was an important legacy to carry on. Looking back, I’m happy I did.”
In hindsight, Phil doesn’t know if the move was fate, but does feel it was almost inevitable.
“Who else was going to do it if it weren’t me? What would’ve happened? My dad would have sold it to somebody, and who’s to say it would’ve been the same New York Bagel anymore,” Phil said.
Now co-owner with his father, Phil knows how monumental his role is in being a fourth-generation owner.
“It’s really something to be proud of,” Phil said. “We just lost my grandfather this year back in March, and he was ecstatic that I decided to join. He was second generation and got to work with his father, my father got to work with his father and now I get to work with my father and help him start to wind down and transition to the next generation.”
Phil has one child, a 6-year-old daughter, and laughs when the topic of fifth-generation potential comes up. It may be a bit too early to tell, Phil believes.
“When I ask her what she wants to do, she says she wants to be a teacher or veterinarian,” Goldsmith said. “She’s not thinking about bagels, she likes to eat them, but not about making them.”
Goldsmith has made many contributions to New York Bagel so far, but none more important than adding to the company’s technological capabilities. He has spearheaded efforts in adding DoorDash and GrubHub delivery service capability and transitioning from an old-school cash register to a full point-of-sales system, giving the store a lot more insight into the business.
After the Pandemic
Similar to most businesses during the pandemic, New York Bagel faced its challenges, such as having to shut down for a month and a half. The Goldsmiths believe they were fortunate in many respects, though, seeing most of their staff return for reopening while so many businesses didn’t come back at all.
“When we came back, it was a little bit of a slow start, but that’s when we really enhanced our ability to take care of the GrubHub and DoorDash orders and our ability to take orders online from customers, doing curbside and such,” Phil said. “It hasn’t been an easy 16 months, but we’re still here and kicking.”
Surviving a pandemic, Howard Goldsmith realizes how much his son’s contributions in the technology area have been to their business.
“We can’t believe the number of DoorDash and GrubHub orders we get, and people want the convenience of ordering online and doing curbside service if they request it,” Goldsmith said. “This is about taking care of customers. If it weren’t for Phil, we wouldn’t be doing all of that, so it’s very important that he’s been here.”
For Phil Goldsmith, the future of New York Bagel will be carried by a recurring theme in its 100-year success story: consistency.
“We’re going to keep doing things the same way from an ingredient and process perspective. We’ll be looking at other ways to enhance our offerings to customers and opportunities for additional locations, expanding our customer base and continuing to give back to the community,” he said.
Goldsmith also hopes to leverage technology more to help growth, including enhancing the store’s social media presence.
“To a large degree though, we’ve been successful for 100 years because we don’t change our process and the fundamentals of what we’re doing. We’ll be continuing to be out there making the best bagels in Detroit.”
Howard Goldsmith believes New York Bagel’s product and connection to their loyal customer base is what has set them apart all these years.
“I’d like to think we’ve had a close eye on putting out a great, consistent product every day,” Goldsmith said. “Another key is taking care of customers well and trying to satisfy them in any way possible. No matter how much technology you incorporate, if you don’t put out a good product and your customers aren’t satisfied, you’re screwed.”
Seeing an unwavering connection between Metro Detroit’s Jewish community and the shop in its 100-year existence, Howard remains grateful, but has also witnessed bagels having an evolution beyond the Jewish customer base.
“If it weren’t for the Jewish community, I think New York Bagel wouldn’t have flourished,” Goldsmith said. “We still rely on the Jewish community to keep us going, but bagels have entered into the general culture now and are a food for the general population. We’re eternally grateful for every customer who comes in here, Jewish or not.”
Reflecting on his family’s legacy and looking to the future, Howard is hopeful as he gets closer to fully handing off the reins to his son.
“Any time a business reaches 100 years old, that’s a real accomplishment. It’s a reflection of hard work and keeping our eye on the ball,” he said. “Phil represents the fourth generation. I’m extremely proud. He’s brought some capabilities that I could never bring, and that’s what it’s all about really.
“If you want to grow, you have to have an eye toward the future, and he has that.”
We Support Our Community
The bagel shop, with three locations in Ferndale, West Bloomfield and Southfield, wants to offer a free bagel to all teachers at any of their locations on Thursday, Sept. 9, and Friday, Sept. 10. Teachers just need to show their school ID to receive the free bagel.
For years, New York Bagel has helped area schools raise thousands of dollars for special school projects, activities and materials with their bagel fundraising program. New York Bagel sells bagels to the schools for $6 a dozen or .50/bagel and schools normally conduct a Bagel Day each week and sell the bagels for $1 each. Delivery is available for a nominal fee. For more information, visit, www.NewYorkBagel-Detroit.com.