Big smiles grace the faces of patrons sitting down to eat at a little cafe that sits just off the exit of John Glenn Boulevard. Laughing and joking can be heard from the regulars who never fail to stop in daily. The smell that fills the air is a mix of homemade bagels and cream cheese. A customer walking out of the door turns around and says, “You’ll never find another place quite like Bagelicious.”
Many people around the community, including Jennifer Woleslagle and Jerome Wicker, who have co-owned the cafe for two years, adore Bagelicious, 7608 Oswego Road., Liverpool. Wicker and Woleslagle worked together in the auto business 15 years prior but decided a change of scenery is exactly what they needed.
“We had looked into a lot of different business opportunities, and Bagelicious definitely checked off most of the things on our list,” Woleslagle said. “We wanted something with a lot of room to grow. We had visions of expanding past the Syracuse area, and we saw a lot of potential from this place. So, we put in an offer, and now we are in the bagel business.”
Before they had made the decision to purchase, Wicker and Woleslagle sat down at one of the tables and just listened to what people were saying; how the employees interacted and how the customers reacted to the food. “It didn’t seem like a ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ type of place,” Wicker said with a smile. “Bagelicious has been here a long time, and it’s done a wonderful job ingraining itself within the community.”
They closed the deal on Oct. 15, 2015. “We really have always worked great together,” Wicker said. “We both have dominate personalities, but we have a good time working. We feed off each others strengths to make each day better than the last, for our customers.” Over the course of the first three to four months, Woleslagle and Wicker gravitated to different parts of the business that they found the most enjoyable. Woleslagle covers everything from the counter up — taking orders, serving and cleaning — while Wicker covers everything from the counter back — prepping, cooking and heavy lifting.
Surprisingly enough, neither Wicker nor Woleslagle had any previous experience making bagels from scratch. They both had previous restaurant experience and food knowledge, but they ended up spending a lot of hours perfecting the homemade bagel. “We went into this business knowing that we weren’t going to make any dramatic changes,” said Wicker. “We felt the only way we could screw it up was to make changes to a business that was doing well to begin with.”
Richard Leonardo, the previous owner of Bagalicious, stayed for 90 days after Wicker and Woleslagle took over to help them learn the fresh, homemade secrets of the business, and then was hired on part-time for six months to get them on their feet. “(Leonardo) felt it was important that the customers get the opportunity to get used to the idea of new owners,” Wicker said. “He didn’t want to make a big deal of it, and eventually he left and it was just us two and the business like he was never there at all. He really helped us out.”
“Homegrown and baked fresh” is the mantra that Wicker and Woleslagle try to live by every day. They do as much as they can with local sourcing and work with the freshest food possible. “The magic of Bagelicious is the location, the community and the food that is made right here,” Woleslagle said. “We do not serve re-cooked food. We tell ourselves that if it is not fresh and hot, then it is not going out. We try to give our customers the best, so we don’t mess with the quality of food.”
The only problem that Woleslagle and Wicker face is once the bagels are gone, they are gone for good, until the next day. “We prepare for one level a day, and if we surpass that level there is no bringing out more bagels,” Woleslagle said. “It’s a good thing because we don’t want any leftover bagels, a bad thing because you don’t want to run out, either.”
The bagel process starts the night before to plan for the day ahead. There are many factors including weather, temperature and humidity that help the bagel rise, but most important is making sure the bagel is not under or over proofed, which means it will collapse. “Depending on the day of the week, or if we have an event happening, we have about 24 racks of bagels that need baking, which is over 500 bagels,” Wicker said. “Our oven in the back only holds six trays, so we really rely on the help of our nine other employees to prep the bagels once they are done.”
Brandon Straub, who works as an employee at Bagelicious had nothing but praise for the two co-owners. “I honestly love working here,” Straub said. “It’s such a friendly, comfortable environment, and I love the people I work with. Jennifer and Jerome are the nicest people I’ve ever met and this cafe will thrive because of them. We all kind of have the same responsibilities here. They have been teaching me how to make bagels and cream cheese from scratch just so I can teach others. We need to spread the word about Bagelicious!”
On the weekends, there is a line of customers out the door to get a taste of what Bagelicious has to offer. According to Wicker, they aren’t as well known as they would like, but they are doing their best to change that. Sunny 102, one of Syracuse’s local radio stations, had approached Woleslagle and Wicker about doing an interview for national bagel day last year, and now they have partnered to do Bagel Break on Friday Mornings where Sunny gives out a dozen bagels with cream cheese.
“We also love to be involved in the community and do as much as we can with the local high school and elementary school,” Wicker said. “This year is also the second year we will be the breakfast sponsor for the Rescue Mission: Ride for Rescue, which when we were presented with the opportunity, we jumped on it because getting involved with the community and helping others out, will help us in the long run.”
Bagelicious has loyal and dedicated customers that range from people in their 80s to students stopping in before school. Wicker and Woleslagle pride themselves on knowing most orders and most people by sight or by name. “I don’t need to have a conversation with everyone I meet,” Woleslagle said. “But I think it is welcoming for our customers to know that we care, and that’s what it’s really about.”
Bagelicious is open from 6 a.m. – 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 7 a.m. – 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday.