The calls started pouring in around noon on Tuesday. And they weren’t just from customers placing orders for pumpernickel bagels or whitefish salad.
Instead, the voices on the other end of the line were frantic, sad, concerned that their beloved bagel shop was closing.
No, the workers at H & H Midtown Bagels East explained again and again, our store is not closing. That’s the H & H Bagels on the Upper West Side.
“You have to go through the whole explanation,” said Dayna Paulino, an office manager. “That was definitely the most frustrating part.”
Since news broke that the H & H Bagels store on Broadway and West 80th Street would be closing — by next Monday, the employees said — H & H Midtown Bagels East has borne the brunt of the public concern. There have been more than 100 telephone calls from people who are confused about the relationship between the stores. Namely, they think there is one.
Given the striking similarity in names, and similar locations — the East Side bagel store is directly across the park at Second Avenue between 80th and 81st Streets — it is not surprising that confusion has long reigned in this crosstown bagel war.
In fact, the two stores at first were operated by the same owners. After the company faced bankruptcy in the 1980s, a new owner took over the East Side store, but continued to use the H & H name. In the late 1990s, the Upper West Side H & H sued the East Side H & H over the name, and the East Side store countersued.
“The outcome after all that money,” recalled Diana Alexiou, a co-owner of the East Side store, “was that each store had to put a little sign in the window saying they were not related.”
That sign is still there. But it never worked too well.
And so, when the Upper West Side store stopped answering its telephone as word spread in recent days that it would be closing, the phones rang and rang across town. (A factory store on West 46th Street with the same owner — and same bagels — as the Upper West Side store will remain open, employees said. Our phone calls to that store and the Upper West Side one were not answered.)
Ms. Paulino said that a television producer had called the East Side store on Wednesday. “She’s like she’s trying to get me to tell her that we’re the same company, and I said, ‘We’re not the same.’ ”
Ms. Alexiou said she never really understood the confusion, despite the similar name. The Upper West Side store, she noted, was famous for its refusal to slice bagels and smear them with even cream cheese or butter.
“The East Side store is bagels, lox, cream cheese, muffins, whitefish salad,” she said. “We have a baker who just bakes cookies.”