The Bagel Spot: A Forest Hills Tradition in Its Own League
Every neighborhood has community institutions that read “NYC” all over it. For Forest Hills, it is The Bagel Spot at 101-01 Queens Boulevard, a small business with a huge heart for the community on a charming corner, across from the historic Federoff Triangle.
This past winter, business partners and close friends, 34-year-old Steven Kushmakov and 28-year-old Ruben Davidov, who have strong roots in Queens, acquired NY Hot Bagels & Bialys and renamed it. Afterall, they felt it was “The Spot” to be. The shop operated under earlier names on the same block since the early 1990s, and they were committed to the shop’s survival. They also fulfilled their goal to greatly expand its line of food and cater to a more diverse clientele at reasonable prices. “We don’t only offer bagels, but now have assorted wraps, paninis, special breakfast platters, desserts, fresh squeezed juices, and exotic fresh smoothies,” said Kushmakov.
Historically, a New York style bagel is the product of Ashkenazi Jews, mostly from Poland, who immigrated to the Lower East Side and introduced the tradition to largely Jewish New Yorkers in the late 1800s. As of the 1960s, the bagel rose in stardom and was quite an attraction for the city’s non-Jewish population. Over time, what was considered a filling and inexpensive treat graduated from three ounces to six ounces.
As for a bialy, this Eastern European Jewish classic was introduced to New York City from Bialystock, Poland in the late 1800s. Its indented center entices palates with onion, garlic, or poppy seed. Whereas bagels are boiled, bialys are baked. Americans typically have big eyes for a good bagel, but bialys did not echo a bagel’s countrywide journey due to their estimated six-hour shelf life and not usually being shipped.
Kushmakov was born in June 1989 in the Russian town of Kokand, Uzbekistan, and at age two, immigrated with his family to the heart of Forest Hills. He attended P.S. 220, Halsey J.H.S. 157, and Forest Hills High School. He has been active in the hospitality and catering industry since his teen years. “I have a lot of passion in the art of food and serving people, especially in my community, and I want my kids to represent where they were born and raised,” said Kushmakov. “I want to give good food and good vibes to our up and coming generation, and I hope that once my kids and Ruben’s kids grow up, they will be a big help to our business and our community.”
Born in October 1995 in Israel, Davidov relocated to America at one year old, and was raised in Forest Hills and Rego Park. Now he resides in Fresh Meadows. For most of his adulthood, he worked in the bagel industry and took pride in the art of food. Kushmakov, who calls him a foodie, said, “It gives him the aptitude for social media and learning new ways to connect to people.”
Kushmakov met Davidov last September and valued his significant experience in the bagel industry. “We shared mutual thoughts about the 30-year-old bagel shop and didn’t want it to go to waste. We decided to make our shop more easily accessible for our superb community and did a full transformation. We’re receiving lots of support from great friends, family, and community neighbors,” said Kushmakov. Now the interior features an energizing bagel and food-inspired mural, cushioned seats, brighter lights, and additional food counters and a larger freezer.
The partners fulfilled their vision and saw a large future at The Bagel Spot. He explained, “We spent about two months bringing the place up to speed for new generations. We revamped the menu and lowered the prices to get the neighborhood back into the shop. We added lots of new items, focusing very heavily on breakfast and lunch.”
Kushmakov also laments recent losses. “The community really changed from what was 10 to 20 years ago. The famous locations, including the mom and pop shops on Queens Boulevard have been closing, but not everything is about money. We wanted to make sure that all generations and especially the elderly have a safe and close place to dine, so they can still have their favorite bagel shop to go to every day for breakfast and lunch.”
Kushmakov commended Davidov for the vast planning and organization of the shop and called him “the brains of the operation.” Davidov also introduced The Bagel Spot’s delivery services, which include UberEats, Seamless, Grubhub, and Yelp, among others. “Since I come from a catering background, I also searched for more opportunities, and together we became a force,” said Kushmakov. The partners also cater for hospitals, senior care assisted living facilities, medical offices, and pharmaceutical companies.
Besides entrepreneurs, they are humanitarians who are open to lending their support to many community causes and events. “We take pride in our community, and it’s not always about making a dollar. Let’s network with our peers,” said Kushmakov. They sponsor events at P.S. 175, Forest Hills High School, and LIJ Forest Hills Hospital.
He felt inspired by a recent partnership. “Forest Hills High School reached out in regard to donating food to their annual spring concert and for Teachers Appreciation Week, so Ruben and I jumped at the opportunity by sponsoring all three days. We even wanted to give all teachers and students an opportunity to view our shop and menu, and handed out coupons for free coffee. We want to make connections with current and future community leaders.”
Kushmakov’s father had a long history in the culinary industry and is among his greatest inspirations. “Back in Russia, my dad used to run an ice cream/sugar factory. When we came to the states in 1992, his first job was at a bagel shop, and he was a bagel roller and baker for 15 years. Then he bought a kosher dairy luncheonette in Manhattan.” Reflecting on his family’s past, he said, “I was so fascinated with the culinary industry, that I attended NYC College of Technology and graduated with a hospitality manager degree and a minor in culinary arts.”
Kushmakov met Davidov through a mutual uncle, Eddy, who is considered “The King of Bagels” in Forest Hills and was an original owner of the shop that evolved into The Bagel Spot. Eddy erected Forest Hills Bagels nearby on 69th Road, and is also involved in the new bagel shop on 64th Avenue and Queens Boulevard and another new bagel shop on 108th Street. He also acquired Jewel Bagels on Main Street.
He reminisced, “When Uncle Eddy found out that we are interested in this new venture, he introduced us, and we discussed our future and ran with it. Years ago, Uncle Eddy taught Ruben everything about the bagel industry. He took Ruben into Forest Hills Bagels at 19. He started from the very bottom, and shortly after became a general manager.” Uncle Eddy also helped rejuvenate “The Bagel Spot” and is their role model.
The façade’s creative illuminated sign bears their logo alongside the striped awning. In the near future, a local history and architectural mural will rise on the varied 1940s orange brick side wall, with the nationally commissioned artist Gigi Chen and this columnist as project manager, designing a mural. “When Michael reached out to us regarding preserving the wall and having a mural to celebrate our history and culture, we were very excited,” said Kushmakov.
The Bagel Spot has a loyal following. Sandra Martin and her husband Ken Martin of Forest Hills and Florida began patronizing the shop in May. “It is clear that the owners are working hard to establish themselves, and everyone behind the counter is very nice. This establishment is also very convenient for us,” said Sandra. Her husband feels that the bagels, whitefish salad and salmon salad are great, but his favorite aspect is the bialys. “Getting good bagels and appetizing in New York is usually not that difficult, but to be able to walk to a place that not only has good bagels, but good bialys is a real find. People who have not tried the bagels since its new ownership, owe it to themselves,” said Ken.
For more than 25 years, Deborah Sanichara has lived “down the hill” from The Bagel Spot location, and is friendly with many of its patrons. “We sometimes meet for a cup of coffee. Most of the time, I get an egg bagel with vegetable tuna. The options are fresh and delicious, and the place is friendly and clean,” she said.
Sanichara is 1,000 percent for supporting small businesses. “It keeps the personality of the neighborhood intact. Sometimes all progress is not progressive. I love my neighborhood and I worry it’s changing too dramatically,” she said.
She envisions neighborhood meet and greets and other community events at the shop. “We can foster a dialogue about safety, cleanliness and beautification, and accessing available resources to help all in need.”
Nearby resident Rob Kush is quite the bagel connoisseur, but a plain bagel can make his day. “If I’m feeling quasi-healthy, scoop it out. If not, leave the filling, add some scallion cream cheese, and hit me with some lox,” he said.
He feels that the owners created something magical. “They dedicated their time, money, and love for New York to bring you iconic tasting bagels, and even added more menu options for those that love to change it up a bit. Tuna melt goes hard. When I picked up bagels for me and pops, I was surprised to see Ruben and Steven working. Usually, a person buys a business and sets it up to run, but to see the actual owners making sure everything is perfect, it adds to the love. Eating is 80% smell, 20% taste, and 100% love. Most got the smell and taste, but the love… man, do I feel at The Bagel Spot!”
Kush and his friends often visit before work and embrace the ambiance. “We love talking to people and asking what their favorite foods are, so we can try them. It also helps that both owners are super approachable and love to get to know their patrons.”