If you walk into Ess-a-Bagel in Midtown Manhattan at any given time, you’re likely to find chief operating officer Melanie Frost along with her mother, Muriel, working there. “It’s very family oriented. Like the store itself, that’s the culture. We’re a family, and that’s sort of how we operate.” Every single day, the legendary shop on Third Avenue cranks out its famous oversized bagels with a crusty exterior and pillowy-soft interior. It’s no wonder, then, that Thrillist recently named it one of the best bagels in New York City. “We hand roll our bagels every day, boil them, and we bake them,” explains Melanie Frost. “It’s like that old-fashioned type of bagel that not many places do nowadays.”
Ess-a-Bagel has been operating this way ever since Melanie’s aunt and uncle, Florence and Gene Wilpon, opened the shop with Florence’s brother Aaron Wenzelberg back in 1976. The first time the trio made bagels, they proofed them for too long, and the unbaked bagels swelled to a massive size. But this mistake turned out to be a blessing in disguise when large bagels became the Ess-a-Bagel signature. “People just loved it. You know, crusty on the outside, chewy on the inside,” recalls Melanie Frost. “They went with it, and it just became a hit.”
Melanie Frost, who had worked in the family business through the years, officially took over as COO almost five years ago after Florence passed away. Her duties vary—one day, it could be fixing an oven or a mixer that has broken during the night. Other days, she’s figuring out pricing, creating schedules, talking to vendors, and so much more. She also regularly does tastings with current and prospective catering clients to guide them through the menu. “People just flip over it. They absolutely love it, and they’ll say, ‘I never knew you had that!’” and add it to their current order.
Some of these current clients regularly order breakfast spreads like the yogurt-and-granola bowls or the bagel, danish, and muffins platter with over 15 different choices of creative bagel flavors and spreads (sesame bagels and jalapeño cream cheese are Melanie Frost’s personal favorites). But after doing a tasting, they might order an array of sandwiches like baked-salmon salad and whitefish salad, as well as turkey, pastrami, egg salad, roasted vegetables, and more. There are also fresh-baked dessert platters piled high with mini black-and-white, oatmeal raisin, or chocolate chunk cookies. Tastings are also a way for Melanie Frost to gather client feedback or suggestions since her team is always looking to expand and improve Ess-a-Bagel’s already popular catering menu.
Melanie Frost’s previous career in sales has been invaluable when it comes to building up the catering business at Ess-a-Bagel. While she does outreach through social media, she still emphasizes face-to-face communication and getting to know the customers personally. But she still credits the emphasis on quality, the homespun vibe, and that old-fashioned, jumbo bagel with keeping the shop in business for more than 40 years. She adds, “In terms of the bagel itself and the food, my aunt has created a New York institution.”
Wanna place an order for mountains of bagels?