For Yelp reviewer Karen N., the best mornings start with Bagel Master. For years, the school bus driver parked her empty bus in the parking lot next door to the family-run business in Syosset, New York, traded exact change with the staff for her usual (whole wheat everything bagel), and was back on her route in five minutes flat.
“Since I started to work in the area over 30 years ago, I have found the only bagel worthy of the name,” she wrote in her Yelp review. “If you want to know what a true bagel should taste like—what the mouth feel should be—then you must come to the experts.”
When it comes to any delicacy, bagels included, patrons value quality and taste. But as in the case of Karen, treating people with care is just as important. Owner Vadim Nayman says the customer service is baked into the family recipe at Bagel Master. His team often hands off orders to regulars—partly to keep the line flowing in the busy morning lunch rush, but also to preserve a personal touch crucial to the Long Island staple.
“My dad taught me that the customer is always the number one priority,” he said. “You have to make sure they’re happy. He knew every customer in this store. He knew what they ate. He knew how they liked it, and he got to know the community. He got to know what most of these people did for a living.”
Vadim’s father opened the bagel shop in 1990 after immigrating from Russia. From a young age, Vadim grew up helping in the shop and getting to know the community it served: generations of New Yorkers who hired the bagel makers for brisses, bar mitzvahs, weddings, and funerals.
But while he admired his father’s work ethic and connection with the customers, Vadim didn’t plan to take over the family business. He worked at law firms for several summers and prepped to take the LSATs. Yet when the day of the test came, he walked out; the business was calling him home.
Today, he strives to follow his father’s lead with his employees, doing whatever it takes to make the business successful—even if that means working on holidays. “How can I expect my staff to be here if I don’t lead by example?” he said. “They want to be with their families. They want to be doing their own thing. And if I expect them to be here, I have to lead the way in doing so.”
But in other ways, Vadim has left his own mark. Operating in the digital age, he has sometimes had to fight an older generation of part-owners to court a wider variety of customers, including expanding the menu to accommodate dietary restrictions. “In terms of menu items, you have to be open to everything,” he said. “[In my father’s generation,] it was milk, skim milk, and half and half for everybody. I carry every creamer—almond milk, oat milk. And yes, Starbucks created that phenomenon. But if you don’t offer that, then they’re just only going to go to Starbucks. So you need to be on top of your game.”
His updates also include adopting new marketing strategies to meet digital trends. “We were one of the first businesses on Facebook as a business,” he said. “People, including my dad, laughed at me and said, ‘Why? It’s a waste of time. You’re taking time away from the customers.’ But what I realized was it’s the easiest way to touch base with your customers.”
Until the pandemic, Bagel Master had not closed in 19 years. When COVID-19 ended that record, Vadim used his Facebook presence and Instagram page to communicate with his customers—updating changing hours, processes, and what food was available on a daily basis.
This level of communication and consistency, paired with a quality product, is what makes Bagel Master beloved to regulars such as Karen—who not only took the time to review the restaurant on Yelp, but also recommends it to anyone looking for a bagel in the area. She often finds herself saying: “You have to go here. They’ve been doing it the same way for at least 30 years, and everybody else is a copycat.”
“At the end of the day, quality is so important,” Vadim said. “People need to appreciate that from our side, not just the consumer side. I see it lost in so many businesses where people just nickel and dime. People will pay for quality, and that’s how it goes.”
Check out these other important takeaways from the episode:
- Customer service is key. No matter the issue, Vadim believes he can solve any problem without saying no to his customers.
- Diverse offerings attract diverse customers. Sometimes offering more options is better for business, as long as those options stay within the mission of your business and are quality additions.
- High quality costs more, but customers are willing to pay for it. In the end, it doesn’t pay to skimp on quality ingredients because it shows up in the quality of your products.
- Using new social media platforms keeps your business top of mind. Facebook, Instagram, and Yelp can help keep customers apprised of any changes in product, hours, or service.
These lessons come from an episode of Behind the Review, Yelp & Entrepreneur Media’s weekly podcast. Listen below to hear from Vadim and Karen, or visit the episode page to read more, subscribe to the show, and explore other episodes.
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