PORTLAND — In supporting her husband’s bagel-making dreams, Gail Hartglass never dreamed that four decades later she’d still be providing hungry Mainers with the breakfast staple.
On June 2, Mister Bagel, with stores from Portland to Brunswick and Yarmouth to Windham, will celebrate its 40th anniversary with a customer appreciation special: 40 cents off any bagel with cream cheese.
The original store, at 599 Forest Ave., is still owned and operated by members of the Hartglass family. Hartglass’ daughter, Jane Baker, and her husband, Joel, bought the location in 2008.
This week Baker said her children are still too young to work at the store, but her hope is that “when the time comes they, too, will be involved in Mister Bagel in some capacity.
“How wonderful (it would be) to have three generations keeping up the delicious reputation of Mister Bagel. I know my dad, Rick Hartglass, would be so proud to know we are carrying on his creation.”
There are 11 Mister Bagel locations in Maine with another on the way.
Ten of the stores are franchised; the owners are required to buy their bagels and cream cheese from Hartglass to ensure continuity and quality between the various locations, Baker said.
Remembering her husband, who died in 2010, Hartglass said, “He loved this business so much. I know Rick would be so proud that Mister Bagel is still successful and carrying on his legacy and I can say that I am, too.”
Hartglass, who now lives in Falmouth, called her husband “a Brooklyn boy (who) always said this area needed New York-style bagels and, in 1977, his dream came true.”
She added, “Our motto is: ‘We Bake ’em Best!’ (and) if you ask our customers, they’ll tell you we really do.”
Hartglass said she and her husband were looking for the perfect location to open their bagel business, when, one night, they were walking home from synagogue at Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and saw a for-sale sign on the Forest Avenue building, which is near Woodfords Corner.
“Since it was in a great location and had parking, we called the Realtor and our offer was accepted at 10 p.m. We were ecstatic,” Hartglass remembered.
“Neither one of us were cooks, so we made what we knew. Our toaster was a GE toaster oven and our decaf coffee was instant Sanka. Fast forward 40 years and we have 11 stores, with full menus, catering in flavored coffees.”
“Originally, our bagels cost 15 cents each,” Hartglass said. “Today, with all the increases (in production costs) a bagel is $1.25. But our dozens are still always a baker’s dozen, which is a 13-count.”
What keeps people coming back, Hartglass said, is that customers are “guaranteed fresh, delicious food. The atmosphere is also warm and friendly. And the aroma of fresh or toasted bagels is so mouthwatering.”
Her favorite menu item is a sesame bagel topped with cream cheese, tomato, onions and lox. “However, I also often get a multigrain bagel with fresh egg on top or vegetable tofu,” Hartglass said.
Like her mother, Baker said the biggest change over the years has been on the menu. “Originally we only sold bagels, cream cheese and assorted salads,” she said. “Now our sandwiches are on croissants, breads and even wraps.”
In addition to Rick and Gail Hartglass’ work and dedication, Mister Bagel also benefited from the help of a silent partner, Frank Read, who worked with the couple for more than 10 years.
Read retired in 2016, but during the entire length of their partnership “our business relationship was (always) far beyond superior,” she said.
Baker recalled that her parents opened Mister Bagel when she was just 7 years old.
“I can remember my parents being so busy and out of the house until late at night for months working hard getting their new business ready to open,” Baker said.
She has fond memories of “how hard my father worked and how much he loved his business, his customers and his bagels. I am so proud of this business. Over the 40 years, I have only (ever) heard compliments and seen customers leave smiling and satisfied.”
Watching her parents, and particularly her dad, Baker said, “I never thought I would be in the position I am today” – owning and operating the original store and carrying on her father’s legacy.
“When people (come back) to Portland we often hear them say, ‘This is our first stop. We just couldn’t wait to get back to Mister Bagel for a bagel with our favorite cream cheese,’” she said.
“Some even ask if I am Rick and Gail’s little kid. How funny is that? But, it also reminds me of how my dad was at the store every day with the radio blasting oldies,” Baker added.
She also recalled her father’s “smile, hearty laugh and warmth” that expressed “his bigger-than-life personality. To this day, I am often reminded how everyone liked (just) being in his presence.”
“We used to tease him that he was a legend in his own mind,” Baker said, “But truthfully, he is a legend and I’m so proud to brag about it.”
The best part about taking over the family business, Baker said, is, “over the years we are now serving third and sometimes fourth-generation families.”
Mother-daughter duo Gail Hartglass, right, and Jane Baker are carrying on the legacy of Rick Hartglass, the founder of Mister Bagel.
Gail and Rick Hartglass during the early years of Mister Bagel, the New York-style bakery they started on Forest Avenue in Portland in 1977.
For its 40th anniversary June 2, all Mister Bagel stores in Maine will offer a 40-cent discount off bagels with cream cheese.