Restaurant Retrofits Week 5: The Bagel Drop
Do you have a coronavirus comfort food? A particular food item or group that you’ll go to previously unheard of lengths to acquire during the pandemic? In my household, it’s bagels.
More specifically, bagels from Bagelsaurus. I don’t judge others’ preferences, but after many years of systematic bagel-tasting, we have come to our own, unwavering conclusion. Pre-pandemic, probably my husband’s favorite monthly ritual was the Sunday morning bagel run; inevitably, he was in line before they opened, and returned with the still-warm bagels in their big brown bag.
It is remarkable and an extraordinary luxury that we’ve been able to continue to eat well throughout this isolation period. Through these “restaurant retrofit” pieces, I have fed my curiosity and my belly, but have also realized that the efforts undertaken by most places are not sustainable nor economically viable long term. But the fact that many establishments have continued to operate – “they can’t help themselves, they miss the kitchen” – underscores this innate desire to make food for others to enjoy (while also trying to provide some income for themselves and some staff).
My experience with bagels highlights the inverse; the semi-crazy behavior that otherwise rational people will exhibit given their desire for certain food items.
Bagelsaurus, like many other places throughout Boston, closed mid-March for several weeks for obvious reasons, giving the owner and staff the opportunity to figure out the best path forward. As I’ve written, many takeout and fast casual restaurants have continued to offer food, albeit in a reconfigured way. When Bagelsaurus finally did decide to open at the very end of March, it was announced on their website and on Instagram that they would be making 75 dozen bagels available for sale online at 9 am the following Sunday morning. Effectively, a bagel drop. They sold out in two minutes.
My husband and I were not yet closely tracking this newfangled protocol, as we still had some frozen bagels, but that quickly changed with our diminished bagel supply. Bagelsaurus did not announce another stock-your-freezer sale until more than two weeks later, this time available for purchase online at 5 pm on a Thursday. With no bagels left in our house, my husband was poised to purchase at the appointed time. No dice. Gone in less than a minute!
Fortunately, they quickly announced another sale the following Tuesday at 12:30 pm. This time, we were ready. The scene: both my husband and I on our laptops in our kitchen, fingers hovering over the keyboard while our two small children looked at us like we were crazy. Guess who was successful this time? (It was me.) There was definitely dancing when our bagel order was confirmed. A day later I got an email with my pickup time; Thursday at 11:30 am.
My pickup experience was pretty typical in the time of COVID. Bagelsaurus is located on a very local-feeling stretch of Mass Ave in Cambridge between Harvard and Porter Squares. A standard issue metal kitchen shelving rack had been pushed up against the door, with the brown bags labeled for customers. There was the ubiquitous signage in the form of a sandwich board explaining pickup protocol, and the markings on the sidewalk for where to stand. I waved at the nice man sitting inside keeping an eye on things and asked if they were planning to do this more regularly. “We hope so!” he told me. Fortunately, Bagelsaurus recently announced an entirely new protocol for its “bulk bagel pickups.” They will now be doing three days of pickups available for order at 9 pm on Sunday, so the odds of getting bagels have increased significantly.
In retrospect, I realized this whole experience has made me appreciate my bagels even more than I would otherwise. Other food and beverage retailers have experimented with the gimmick of a “drop” in the past, more as a marketing tactic than out of necessity (limited runs of beer and wine come to mind, but mainly I think of fashion and of sneakers). The efforts of Bagelsaurus – whether intentionally or not – is cultivating even deeper brand loyalty. It’s probably stating the obvious here, but the net result of people who are buying gift cards and swag and who have put forth above average efforts in trying to support restaurants are going to come out of this extreme loyalists whether they realize it or not. It’s clearly a different kind of opportunity; maybe not the one that restaurants, bakeries, and breweries were hoping for or wanted, but an opportunity nevertheless.
Regardless, I’m happy to have been able to acquire my coronavirus comfort food. And since our bagel supply is again dwindling, I’ll be ready and waiting this Sunday. Wish me luck.