“Number nine it’s time to dine.” “Got something great, on this plate, for number eight.” “I hate to sound bold, but number 13 your food is getting cold.” Creative, catchy rhymes like these from head baker Rob Hawkins helped draw hundreds of students into Bagel Place on Saturday mornings, along with the delicious food. In his almost seven years working at the restaurant, Hawkins formed a special bond with the College Park and University of Maryland community.
But in October, Bagel Place abruptly closed its doors after 35 years of operations, leaving community members and employees like Hawkins grieving the loss of a College Park treasure. For Hawkins, Bagel Place was more than just a place of employment. The family-run business, established in 1983, was the heart of the College Park community. It’s where students recapped their weekend over breakfast, where alumni brought their children to reminisce on their college days, and where first dates turned into forever romances.
Initially, Hawkins did not see a future working at the restaurant, but quickly, he became part of the Bagel Place family. “The bond was already there before I started working there seven years ago. I jumped into it,” said Hawkins.
The colleague that Hawkins calls “Eva the Diva” agreed.
“The reason people wanted to work there was because of the work environment and the co-worker vibe,” said former Bagel Place employee Eva Moore. Working 12-hour days six days a week, Hawkins said he bonded with his co-workers and remarked that he spent more time at the restaurant than at his actual home.
Despite the long, tiresome shifts, Hawkins said: “On a Saturday morning, it’s one of the best vibes.” On plenty of Saturday mornings, the work “doesn’t even feel like a job.”
Moore said Hawkins played a crucial part in boosting morale early in the morning. “Even though it was 6 in the morning, and I was doing a tedious task, we were dancing together having fun,” said Moore.
Hawkins, who often worked overnight shifts making bagels for the next morning, said he met many students coming home from the Route One bars while he was on breaks outside. Those students, who became what he calls his “loyal customers and friends” would always visit him the next morning for breakfast. Even after graduation, they’d return with families of their own.
Saturday mornings at Bagel Place attracted a wide range of students and families, especially on Terrapin football gamedays. Known as the “Face of the Place,” Hawkins often left his post in the kitchen making bagels. Dressed in a graphic t-shirt or custom Bagel Place shirt, Hawkins would dance out to the main dining area to do his secret handshake with Moore or interact with customers, always with a smile. He would greet students, calm a crying baby by juggling bagels and do one of his famous raps for upcoming orders.
“Rob is great and was always excited to see the players and staff,” said head coach Cathy Reese.
As the unofficial mascot of the team, Hawkins got the players excited for their game by matching their order numbers to their jerseys and crafting a catchy rhyme for them when their breakfast was ready. “He definitely had a creative way of letting the girls know their food was ready,” said Reese.
The lacrosse team, among other patrons, will have to find a new breakfast tradition. After three years of negotiations with the landlord, Bagel Place abruptly closed its doors on Friday, Oct. 29, right before homecoming weekend.
University of Maryland student Allie Tortorella heard the news via social media. “I was shocked, I had thought that Bagel Place was doing well because every time I go there’s a line out the door,” said Tortorella.
Tortorella, who lives across the street from the restaurant, said she was planning to have a normal Saturday, going to breakfast with her roommates before the game.
The news came as a shock to Hawkins as well, who had finished his Friday shift and was planning for a hectic weekend of business. By 6 p.m. on Friday, Hawkins’ phone was lighting up with messages from loyal customers and alumni in town for the homecoming game, all of whom were planning to go to Bagel Place for breakfast over the weekend.
Hawkins visited the dark, empty restaurant the next morning. A banner that read “thank you for your support over 35 years, we will miss you,” hung over the front door. He was met with a confused crowd gathered outside.
“There were a lot of people angry and cursing,” said Hawkins. “But there were also people crying, and that kind of got my heart. That’s when I decided I’m going to do everything I can to try to keep this open.”
In early November, Hawkins claimed that there was “still a sliver of hope.” For weeks after the restaurant’s closure, Hawkins was in contact with multiple news organizations and exhausted all his resources, doing everything he could to spread the word and put pressure on the landlord. A petition to keep the Bagel Place open circled social media, collecting over 7,000 signatures to date, and the owners urged customers to put pressure on Curtis Property Management, the restaurant’s landlord. Hawkins refused to give up on the restaurant, too. It was his family, his home, and where he felt most connected to members of the University of Maryland community.
“The customers made me what I am now,” said Hawkins.
Unfortunately, the doors of Bagel Place have remained closed and the restaurant seems to have shut down for good. Bagel Place was one of only two breakfast restaurants in College Park, and many agree, nothing else can replace it.