The Shmooze

H & H Bagel Saga Continues

By Michael Kaminer

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It’s been through multiple bankruptcies. Its New Jersey manufacturing plant is history. Its iconic Upper West Side store is but a memory. And it now faces the loss of its only remaining space — a West 46th Street plant and shop. But H & H Bagel — once New York’s dominant producer of Jewishy baked treats — will rise again, its beleaguered owner told The Wall Street Journal yesterday.

In his first public comments since the company’s widely publicized Chapter 11 filing last year, Helmer Toro told the Journal “he is in preliminary talks with investors. He also said he is actively looking” for another location on the Upper West Side. “I’ve been doing this for 40 years and I make the best bagels, according to my customers. And I love what I do,” said the 61-year-old Toro, who founded H & H in 1972.

Toro told the Journal he hopes to hang on to his West 46th Street digs even though the property was sold at auction to a real-estate management outfit for an $11 million bid. The sale was approved by a judge last week, and a closing is scheduled for next month. The building’s sale was a result of federal bankruptcy proceedings.

H & H grew from a single Upper West Side location — “a Sunday morning favorite for a bagel and a schmear — into a web of separate but intertwined companies that have fallen like dominoes over the past year,” the Journal wrote. But according to the New York Daily News, Toro himself may have become the company’s biggest liability. “Whether there is enough bite left in the brand to lure a white knight remains to be seen. Doubts about Toro’s operating skills could give investors a sour taste,” the News wrote. A bankruptcy lawyer uninvolved in the case told the news that “H&H is such a strong franchise in New York, he may be able to find an investor, although his record as an operator is less than stellar.”

Toro pleaded guilty two years ago to grand larceny charges. He admitted failing to turn over to the state more than $330,000 in payroll taxes he had withheld from employees, the News said.

As the Forward reported in October, Queens-based Davidovich Bakery, which bills itself as “the only manufacturer in the world that makes hand-rolled kettle-boiled bagels for the wholesale community,” may open its first retail location in H & H’s now-vacated space. The Wall Street Journal, in a January story, also reported that Davidovich had taken over several of H & H’s wholesale accounts.


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