What’s Up with Montague Street Bagels?

If you’ve visited Montague Street Bagels during peak hours on a Saturday or Sunday morning, then you’ve experienced the slow-moving line, the rapid-fire ordering process, and, finally, the tenuous five-to-ten-minute period during which you wonder whether the bagel you desire will actually be the one you receive. Also, you’ve become sort of intrigued by the honor system at the register. (“What kind of cream cheese did you order?” “Um, is plain the cheapest?”)

Let me just say that the bagels at Montague Street Bagels are delicious: chewy and crisp and soft in all the right places. The cream cheese variety is pleasing, as are the multitude non-cream cheese options and other foodstuffs opposite the counter. But this is New York City, and we take our bagels very seriously. We rely on our neighborhood bagel joints to provide a sense of comfort and routine almost as much as we do a satisfying meal. And when you’re pretty much the only bagel shop in a neighborhood, as Montague Street Bagels is, that is quite a burden to bear.

Joe Terranova, the new owner of Montague Street Bagels, understands this responsibility, and during a recent conversation, acknowledged that there are problems with his shop’s operations.

“If you look around, besides our bakers and our kitchen people, our front counter is totally new people,” he said in a phone interview yesterday. “It’s been a little bit of a challenge.”

Since taking the reins three months ago from previous owner Paul (“a good friend,” Terranova says), he has been working on creating a more efficient system because, in his words, “On Saturdays and Sundays especially, it’s a disaster.”

For the record, Terranova sounded as frustrated with the situation as I was, apologizing emphatically and not making any excuses. The constant mistakes and delays are, he thinks, the result of employees not taking their time. “We’re trying to have them slow down, write down orders,” he said, and promised that he’s going be more hands on behind the counter as well.

As he considers possible solutions to the problems, like moving the register to a different location or establishing a number system, Terranova wants you to know he feels your pain. “I see it everybody’s face,” he said, adding, “I’m aware of it, and I apologize.”

Also in the works for Montague Street Bagels: more additions to the recently established steam table; an expansion to the existing bagel menu; and personal 9-inch pizzas that will certainly satisfy the after-midnight crowd.

How would you improve the situation at Montague Street Bagels? Am I overreacting?

Share this Story:
  • Melissa

    A while back, I noticed that the bagels looked different and then noticed that they tasted different and terrible. Not sure what they’ve changed, but it’s awful.

  • Bklyner

    That place is by and far the worst bagel place in NYC. The service sucks, the people are rude and it literally takes forever to get anything. The bagel joint on court nearthe movie theater is the only place to go (or their sister store in dumbo). Montague bagels should just close already

  • Hortense

    I agree with the comment that there should be a Lenny’s in BH and a B&H. Lenny’s would bring a good sandwhich to BH for the first time. Struggle to get a good one other than at L&H

    The only thing I’d say is that the new owner is investing in new counters and seems a little more (little – key word) concerned with cleanliness. I also agree he shouldn’t add anymore products. He should instead add more poppy and sesame seeds per bagel – barely has any on there

  • Y

    Amazing what horrible things you have experienced there. Never had a problem before or now. Its a bagel not a $80 burger.

  • David on Middagh

    I like their whole wheat bagels, and the everything. I’ve cut down since deciding that a bagel is a 400-calorie blast o’ refined carbohydrates, but when I indulge, I buy off-peak and uncut. I would be UNHAPPY to see this store close.

  • Monty

    I like the bagels from Connecticut Muffin actually. My wife prefers Hot Bagels, but CM definitely has better coffee.

  • north heights res

    Bklyner, I’m all for a little hyperbole (“That place is by and far the worst bagel place in NYC”), but you blow it with the “literally takes forever to get anything.” If it did, you’d still be there. For a lot longer.

  • tastey

    mickey…these comments are a joke.

  • Mickey

    @tastey: these “jokes” could cost the owner his livelihood if people take them seriously.

  • JoT

    @tastey & Mickey: the comments may be a little overdramatic, as BHB comments are wont to be, but i think they are GOOD for the new owner – market research for free, right here. sure, you can’t please all the people all the time (especially not in this ‘hood), but you damn well need to pay attention to universal complaints. i stopped going here a long time ago, as did my boyfriend when he discovered they forgot his order three times after he’d been waiting for 10 minutes or so. by the way, that was BEFORE the new owner, so if the service has gotten worse since then, i shudder to think. it’s always been bad.

    these “jokes” aren’t costing the owner his livelihood; the “jokes” are a reaction to the way his business is being run, and in a service-oriented industry, THAT’S likely to cost him his livelihood.

    glad to hear he’s cognizant of it and trying to make changes. i’d be willing to return, as i liked the bagels.

  • Kerri T.

    +1 for the “terrible service” camp. I have gotten incorrect bagels after being asked multiple times for my order, and find it a little disgusting when the cashier (who handles money) opens up my wrapped sandwich to find out what it is. Service overall is lethargic. I stopped going years ago.

  • Joseph

    Well I must say that even though the majority of the responses are negative and extremely poignant, they are truly an eye-opener. I was aware there were dissatisfied guest, but not this many! Look I just want to say that I have given much thought to resolving this problem of bad customer service. I am considering implementing a number system in which the counter person will be forced to write down the customer’s order, tear or hand a copy to the customer with a numbered ticket and then the customer brings the ticket up to the cashier where they will ring the order. The sales person will attach the original ticket with that persons order. Now I will look to role this out in the next week or 2 so please bear with us because it might take a few days to get everyone in sync with this process. Also if we still find ourselves struggling with speed of service, we will look to open up another register on the weekends to help move the lines and get you guys in and out as quickly and painlessly as possible.

  • jp

    Has anyone been to the convenient store on the corner of Hicks and Montague ( Biviano’s old place)? If so how was service?

  • p

    i heard the owner yelling at the staff for speaking too much spanish.

  • north heights res


    Thanks for taking the time to wade through all of our vitriol and to post a response. It can’t be easy to read all this criticism and then respond with as positively as you did. I’ve been going to your store for over a decade and haven’t had a bagel I like more than yours, so here’s hoping that the growing pains end soon. Thanks.

  • pankymom

    Hire. a. professional. manager. Hire someone with LaBagel experience, if at all possible. Those guys in DUMBO run a very tight ship. If your employees are not responding they need to be let go — there are too many good people who can make an excellent sandwich quickly in NYC to deal with this crap.

  • Ari

    I just don’t understand why ALL of the former employees were let go….

    Regardless of the customer experience before the new ownership took over, many of the those long-term employees were great, and despite the complaints, were good at their jobs.

    Now there are just more employees behind the counters completely clueless and experts at doing things as slowly as possible. (And don’t speak any good English)

  • xyz

    There was a great system at a deli by Brooklyn College. Once your order was taken the deli person would write with pencil on the wrapping of the order what it was. For example, toasted bagel with cream cheese, he would scribble TCC. Then the register guy would call out the order once he received it. You get it and out the door.

  • pankymom

    Joe if you fired all the old people, you need to be prepared to pay double until everything is running perfectly because you will have to cycle in new people until you have a crack team. Make them stay late in the evening and run drills until you can get a hot order in 3 mins. You don’t need another cash register — you probably aren’t making enough money to put in it.

  • AnnieOakley

    Since it seems the comments are actually being taken into consideration, a request. We’ve been there a bunch, and generally the quality of service has improved but there’s a ways to go.

    I noticed that staff started actually marking what’s inside for the person at the register. However, please let the staff know NOT to use *permanent* marker on the thin paper to mark the contents! Once I got home, I realized our bagels not only had permanent marker ON the bagel itself because the marker had soaked through the paper, but it made the whole thing *smell* like sharpie, which might be the LEAST appetizing smell ever.

  • Sonny

    forget the long lines and horrible service. i stopped going there when i noticed the wall of bugs and flies right across from the order window / desk, next to the the drink cooler. disgusting. they were all crawling around within inches of the kitchen door and the bagels coming in and out.

  • http://www.danrosenbaum.com danno

    The problem isn’t the front of the store, it’s in the back. (I’d noticed that the place has gone to hell over the last month or so, but didn’t realize it had been sold.) The line to order is glacial, and I’ve found it to be a crapshoot on weekend mornings whether there will be any bagels at all when you get to the front of the line. One Sunday, I found there were only whole wheat and sun-dried tomato bagels (the latter being an offense against nature, in any event); anything else would be a 15 minute wait. And they couldn’t say what was coming out of the oven, even then.

    Whiny, I know. But it’s a bagel store. It’d be nice if they could manage their inventory well enough to actually have bagels for sale during peak times.

    Oh. And while I’m complaining, more toppings please. The poppy bagels in particular are nearly naked…

  • pankymom

    Actually all of these comments makes me want to know who the really amazing line teams are in BH? 5 Guys, clearly, and I think the DUMBO La Bagel team is very very good at getting you in and getting you out with what you want every time.

    Who else should Joe study?

  • tb

    I love labagel. Not only are they fast but they are NICE.

  • Jordan

    There two things that are great about Montague Bagels. They have good bagels and they are open 24 hours.

    I agree with everyone else, the service lately has been terrible. On top of that, the last time I was in, around 9pm on Monday November 15th, I was surprised on how rude the man working behind the counter was to me. I’m not one to demand overly friendly service, but this man in particular was Mr. Grumpy Pants on steroids. Perhaps he had a rough day, but I’d appreciate it if he didn’t take it out on the customers. As I was leaving with my bag of bagels, the exterminator was walking in. This unfortunately made the bagels taste less good.

  • lrb

    Also be mindful of the pricing and how the register person keys things in when you pay. We ordered a bagel with egg and cheese, which on the pricing board is listed at $3.25. It was rung up as $3.50, so we questioned the guy on the register. He was visibly flustered and offered no explanation as to the jump in price. A guy, who I assume was an owner or manager, came in to intervene. He was just as flustered and kept looking between the pricing board and the register. Finally he offered the following, “it rang up as the breakfast special, which is $3.50.” But, we didn’t order the “breakfast special”. I said what is the “breakfast special”, he said, “a bagel with egg and cheese and a FREE coffee.” Side note: we didn’t get coffee, not did we order one… just a bagel with egg and cheese. So, if a bagel with egg and cheese is $3.25, how is the coffee FREE if the breakfast special is hard coded into the register at $3.50? They all seemed confused by the simple math and logic. Eventually, they manually rang in the $3.25 and gave us our change, but they seemed annoyed that they had to take the time to do it.

  • Heightsguy

    Nobody commented on Mile High on Hoyt St., the Montreal style deli and bagel place. Montreal bagels are much more like bagels of yore, smaller, chewier, more compact. Not like huge dough balloons.
    A bagel and lox and onion in Montreal is memorable. Mile High also features “smoked meat” which is pastramioid. Yes, it’s a hike or two stops on the 2/3.

    The staff under the previous owner gave me a raw bagel for free so I could experiment on boiling and baking it myself. Would be great if you could buy bagel dough somewhere!

  • http://selfabsorbedboomer.blogspot.com Claude Scales

    Heightsguy: it’s “Mile End” not “Mile High”, though the food there is good enough to make you feel a bit high. Mile End is the name of an old Jewish neighborhood in Montreal. I didn’t know it had changed hands. (Did the new owner change the name? If so, I presume the new owner is from Denver, which makes me fear for the place retaining its Montreal authenticity.)

  • nabeguy

    Glad you’re tuning in Joseph. This is a blog, so expect to get schmeared, but stick around long enough and soon enough you’ll be able to separate the wheat from the everything bagel…especially given all the chafing you’ll get from this crowd.

  • jh

    The guys are friendly, service is no worse than it was (or than it is in a lot of other bagel places), but the bagels have really gone downhill in the last month or two. I might be hoofing it over to La Bagel Delight soon.