The wonder of saying yes and letting go (part 2)

Samer Asous learned how to make bagels from his dad and uncle. What started out as the family baking for H&H Bagels in Manhattan eventually turned into their own Mom and Pop shop down in Brooklyn. Samer helped his family by learning both the baking and business side of operations.

Note – If you’re new to this series, it might be helpful to start with Part 1.

Taking over the family business or starting his own shop wasn’t Samer’s only driving interest. He was also passionate about healthcare. A few years ago, Samer decided to move to Chicago – not to open a bagel deli – but to attend med school at St. James School of Medicine. But as he settled in and adjusted to Chicago versus New York, he felt like something was missing.

“I was looking for a bagel and there’s not a true authentic New York bagel [here],” Samer said. “That’s where the idea came up.”

Samer took his board exams before beginning construction on Taste of New York Bagels and Deli in Lakeview at 3268 North Clark Street, less than half a mile away from Wrigley Field. He was running between going to clinics 3-4 days a week while supervising construction at the store. Talking with lawyers. Contractors. Calling people while in rotations. He tried to at least pick the easiest electives during this time and then took a 3-month break when the store opened up.

New York City

I feel like we all have our natural habitat. Someone who feels comfortable in a small town dreads the thought of cramming into a subway car, being surrounded by sirens, car horns, and millions of people. Likewise, the city person can’t imagine being in a small town. Just too quiet.

For me, the first time I walked the streets of Manhattan, I felt this flow, like I was on the same wavelength as the city. There was so much going on around me. There were sirens and mice and rats. The Empire State Building, Madison Square Garden, Times Square. When you looked up at night, you couldn’t really see the stars.

My brain has always been pretty fast-paced, pretty sure it’d qualify as ADHD. But in New York City, ADHD might be a requirement for survival. Brain activity-wise, it was like having a sports car that now got to drive 90 mph vs. 45.

And I expected to be homesick. I was homesick during my first semester at Hope College and that was only three hours away. Wouldn’t 12 hours be 4x worse? But I think faith is kind of like a goldfish; it grows to the size of the tank that it’s in. The surprise: I felt more relaxed, more at peace with Ashley in New York City than I’d ever felt in my life. We were hanging out all the time, buzzing around the city, falling in love.

One night we were at a pizza place, I think it was called Lazarra’s around 38th or 40th street in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. A guy walked in who looked incredibly familiar. I squinted, double-checked my phone. It was Jerry Stiller, Ben Stiller’s real-life dad, and George Costanza’s fictional father on Seinfeld. As he picked up his pizza, I held back every urge to shout out, “It’ll be Festivus for the rest of us!”

Taste of New York Bagels and Deli

“I bring the dough all the way from New York City,” Samer said. “Bake fresh daily. All throughout the day.”

Samer describes the perfect bagel needing to be chewy on the inside, crispy on the outside. He points to the higher levels of magnesium and calcium in New York City’s water as the secret for why you just can’t get a good NYC bagel anywhere else.

Samer makes his own spreads in house. Has 20+ cream cheeses. Everything starts from scratch with no preservatives. They use fresh vegetables, fresh fruit. No added sugar. If they add anything else to the mix, it’s only honey. He keeps everything organic and healthy, as much as he can. Offers close to 20+ different bagel flavors. Gluten-free bagels too.

“We’re trying to cater to almost everybody while trying to keep it simple.”

“The Dumbo” is the crowd-favorite. Philadelphia cheesesteak, eggs, American cheese. Served on a plain NYC bagel.

From New York to Holland to Chicago

When I came home from New York City, my Mom gave me a hand-written journal she’d created of all the text messages I’d sent to her – or at least the ones with stories – while I was away. It was incredible. It was like having this perfectly documented journal of the entire trip. Everything from the restaurants to my agonizing intern work documenting each one of Derek Jeter’s 3,000 hits for the New York Daily News special edition.

We finished out our senior year of college. Ashley went back to the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago. I worked the summer in Grand Rapids. Then, without having a full-time job lined up, I said yes to Chicago. For some reason, it didn’t feel crazy at the time. I knew I wanted to be back in a big city and with Chicago you get to keep the Midwest.

After a couple years working at the Chicago Tribune, Ashley sent me a link to a company in Chicago called Jellyvision. “This looks so cool!!” I did some research. Found out they had an annual Mustache Day where the whole company goes to Fogo de Chao and eats an absolute feast. Done. Sold. I immediately applied for their writing job.

img_5613But I didn’t get it.

They had me come in for a separate interview for a different role.

Didn’t get that one either.

Feeling discouraged and believing somewhere in between “three strikes you’re out” and “eh, third time might be a charm,” I reached out to Josh Fosburg, Jellyvision’s VP of Sales, who just so happened to be a Hope College alum. Landed the interview and a little over two years later, I was walking up the stairs as Cosmo Kramer, ready to join Sam, Molli, Jordan, and Jeff – aka the cast of Seinfeld – to celebrate another Mustache Day.

It’ll be a Festivus, for the rest of us. 



This series will end up being partially a profile of the New York Bagel & Deli restaurant in Chicago, part reflections, and philosophy on how ideas come together. In case you missed Part 1, you can read that right here. And if you enjoy this type of style, you might enjoy the four-part series I did featuring Tango Sur and some Kierkegaard.

Despite the name, Medium Rare isn’t normally a food blog. But for the next several weeks, every Tuesday, I’ll be featuring great local restaurants around the Lakeview neighborhood in hopes that readers support these spots with pickup & delivery orders now and go in-person later this year. Other posts in the seires include:

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