Bagel Central, an eatery in downtown Bangor with a long history and loyal clientele, has changed ownership, effective New Year’s Day.
According to the new owner, not much will change. The friendly staff, varied menu, locally famous bagels and casual atmosphere with communal tables are all here to stay.
“The recipe for success is already there, so we just have to keep following it,” said Bagel Central’s new owner, Scott Bryson, who worked as manager for the establishment for the past 18 years.
Bryson bought the business from Sonya Eldridge, who owned and operated it for the past 20 years. Eldridge couldn’t be reached for comment for this story, and Bryson wasn’t surprised.
“She kind of just wanted to walk out the back door quietly, with no fanfare,” he said. “That’s how she is.”
Nevertheless, Eldridge did share her thoughts about the transition on Bagel Central’s public Facebook page on Dec. 31. In a long, heartfelt post, she announced the change in ownership, reminisced on the years she and her family spent building the business, and thanked the restaurant’s employees and devoted customers.
“They say you should retire when you no longer enjoy going to work,” Eldridge wrote. “For me, that hadn’t happened, and I believe never will. I enjoy my job as much now as I always have, and in 38 years of early morning alarm clocks, I have never dreaded going to work.”
Yet Eldridge still decided it was time to move on.
“My new adventure will take me to my flower gardens, my kayak, my hiking buddies, my Mustang, my long-planned cross-country camping trip, and to a 3-year-old [grandson’s] next idea of fun,” she wrote.
Eldridge was a longtime employee of The Bagel Shop when she purchased it in 1998, then changed its name to Bagel Central and moved it from its original location at 1 Main St. to 33 Central St. in 2000. At the time, she was a young mother raising two children.
“Failure has never been an option,” she wrote in her Facebook post. “I resolved to teach my children what hard work, patience, and tenacity is. And above all, I needed to provide for them.”
Located in the middle of downtown Bangor, Bagel Central became a gathering place for people who work in the area, as well as a destination for visitors, offering a wide variety of sandwiches, soups, pastries, breakfast food and daily specials. It has also become known for its catering services and baked goods, which are handmade with no preservatives.
None of that is going to change, Bryson said.
“I see Bagel Central as an institution of Bangor,” he said. “We’re starting to see a third generation of people, customers — I wish I could think of a better word for them because we don’t view them as customers. Not family, not customers, something in between. We cultivate relationships with them every day.”
Bryson, who lives with his family in Glenburn, began working with Eldridge at The Bagel Shop in 1995, as a cashier.
“I started out waiting on people, I still wait on people, and I’ll always do that,” Bryson said. “I still enjoy it. There’s not a day that passes when I don’t try to get on the counter. I enjoy interacting with people. It’s a small town, everybody knows each other. It’s nice. For better or worse, that’s where we are, that’s what we’re doing.”
Bryson remembers helping Eldridge move the business to its Central Street location. Since then, he has worked closely with Eldridge to run the restaurant, which underwent renovations in 2015 when it outgrew its kitchen.
This past summer, Eldridge approached Bryson proposing to sell him the business. Bryson said he never anticipated becoming the owner but that he’s up for the challenge.
“I’d like to set the same example that Sonya set,” Bryson said. “She instilled a work ethic to hundreds of employees over the years. I’ve never met such a hard worker as Sonya.”
While Bryson doesn’t have plans for any big changes to Bagel Central, he is open to making small changes to serve his customers. For example, Edridge recently hired a new pastry chef to “step their pastries up a notch,” Bryson said. And Bryson is interested in introducing more locally sourced and produced items to the menu.
But most importantly, Bryson wants to continue to run Bagel Central as a place where the community gathers and eats, and employees enjoy working.
“I want to carry on that legacy,” Bryson said. “I’d love to be in the same position, 15 to 20 years from now, to just walk away with health, grandkids, family and plans to travel.”