This is one of three WLAA stories on the reopening of MD Bagel Fragel.
Many small-business owners will tell you that running your own business can be a very emotional rollercoaster. And even though it’s been 13 months since Patricia Rockette served her last bagel at 1760 Plymouth Road in Ann Arbor, you can still hear the mix of frustration, sadness and even anger in her voice when she describes the circumstances of having to close the doors of the popular MD Bagel Fragel for the last time.
“You are open and you are working and you have no clue that this is going to happen and you get a letter from their (building owners) lawyers saying we had to be out in 30 days,” says Rockette, whose voice sounds like she is experiencing it all over again. “We did deliveries to different places so you have to notify them that those will stop and they have to find someone else. We had employees and customers. And now I’m out of a job. All just like that.”
This is not a story about bagels. It’s about challenges, perseverance, community support and a strong enough passion for what you do that somehow you find the strength to move on and start again.
Bagel Fragel, an Ann Arbor institution for four decades, first opened on South University before being forced out of that location (there is a high-rise there now) and moving to Plymouth Road. Rockette purchased the business in 2007 from a longtime employee who bought it from the original owner when they moved to Plymouth Road. She changed the name to MD Bagel Fragel (the M is for Michael and the D is for Dylan – the names of her sons).
But in 2018, Rockette learned that they would have to move again in order to stay in business.
“Someone thought it was a perfect location for a weed store so they bought the whole building from the current owner and as soon as the papers were finalized we got a notice that we had to be out at the end of our lease,” Rockette said. “We didn’t own the building so we had no choice.”
MD Bagel Fragel served its last bagel at 1760 Plymouth Roadon Dec. 20, 2018.
And even though MD Bagel Fragel was extremely popular with thousands of customers and a long history in Ann Arbor, starting again wasn’t on the menu right away. “When we first got the letter it was so devastating we decided we were just going to be done,” Rockette admits. “It was really hard. Really emotional.”
And then it got “really emotional,” but in a totally different direction. Love and support and encouragement proved to be a lot stronger than devastation. Because, remember, this isn’t about bagels.
“The customers started rallying behind us and contacted the lawyer representing the new owner to see if we could stay at least until we could find another place,” Rockette said. “They also started a Go Fund Me account to help us financially. We were on the news and it became a pretty big deal. And that’s when we decided that we needed to find a place and reopen.
“It was an overwhelming feeling to have so many people who cared and were trying to help.”
And the decision to keep the ovens on but in a different location proved to be yet another emotional rollercoaster for Rockette and her family. The decision to stay open at another location may sound simple but executing it would be something totally different.
There were restrictions that Rockette wasn’t familiar with when she started looking for a new home. For example, you can’t open a bagel shop in the same complex to a place that already serves bagels – Panera, for example. Also, doing what MD Bagel Fragel does requires some pretty heavy machinery (ovens, refrigerators, etc.) and that requires a good amount of space.
We had some challenges and it’s been a long struggle,” Rockette says. “First, we needed to find a spot and then we needed to do a full build-out and remodel to house our equipment that we need in order to make our products fresh every day. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I didn’t know the full extent of what it would take to open up in a new location especially the cost and the time involved.
One of the more costly items was a $12,000 state-of-the-art new walk-in freezer. The total bill on the amount of time added up to 13 months.
But finally they found a new location at 3500 Washtenaw Ave., in Ann Arbor. It’s a prime location just off I-23 on the south side of Washtenaw.
MD Bagel Fragel will open on Wednesday (Feb. 6) with a “soft opening.” Rockette says they will have limited hours – 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., seven days a week – to start. The menu will include breakfast sandwiches, lunch sandwiches and, of course, the signature Fragel – a deep-fried raisin bagel tossed in cinnamon sugar.
“We are going to do a soft open just to test things out the first few days and make sure everything is running smooth,” Rockette says. “We don’t know the extent of how many people will show up at this location and we also need to get back into the swing of doing this again.”
It’s also a lot of work every day.
“We make all of our cream cheeses fresh every day. Like our veggie cream cheese, we cut up fresh veggies and make it fresh every day,” she says. “All of our deli meat we slice fresh every day. It’s a big process.”
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Family will be standing right by Rockette’s side. Her niece, Megan Jernigan, will be back working in the front of the house, while her son, Dylan, returns as chief baker.
“It’s going to be exciting, nerve-wracking and scary all at the same time,” Rockette says of opening the doors for the first time in 13 months.
It’s like the line in Field of Dreams – “if you build it, they will come.” In this case it’s more like, “if you build it, they will come back.”
And they will come back because, well, it’s more than just about the bagels.