Bagel Palace’s announcement of its closing after 25 years in Toco Hills would shocked Atlanta’s Jewish community no matter when it came. That the owners shared the news less than 24 hours before turning off the lights for good and did so during the holiday of Shavuot only made the situation more dramatic and more upsetting.
Many people who might have wanted a final bite of the New York-style bagels and store-made spreads didn’t learn about the closing until it was too late.
Bagel Palace isn’t the first local eatery to close; it won’t be the last. But, as the overwhelming response to its Facebook announcement suggests, this one feels different or at least says something more than owners succumbing to new pressures in what’s always a thin-margin, tough-to-survive industry.
The owners’ post points to problems with their landlord at the Toco Hill Shopping Center, Edens, and it’s clear that as the property management company has renovated the center, it has raised rents beyond the means of some longtime tenants. It’s even possible that Edens didn’t want to have a tenant with a look and fixtures straight out of the 1990s amid the shining, contemporary look of newcomers such as celebrity chef Hugh Acheson’s Spiller Park Coffee.
We don’t blame Edens for upgrading the property and seeking tenants that might draw people down North Druid Hills Road from the sprawling medical complex Children’s Healthcare is building just east of Interstate 85. As Vito Corleone would say, it’s just business; it’s not personal.
To be sure, the absence of Bagel Palace doesn’t mean people can’t get a bagel and a shmear in Toco Hills. The same shopping center complex now has an outlet of local chain Goldberg’s, whose food is a fair replacement for Bagel Palace’s. (Our ongoing bagel-tasting series doesn’t point to either eatery as serving the best bagel in Atlanta, although Goldberg’s won that distinction in this year’s Best of Jewish Atlanta survey. Bagel Palace didn’t make the top four.)
For those with less discerning bagel palates, national chain Einstein Bros. is just across the street. Goldberg’s and Einstein Bros. aren’t kosher, but neither was Bagel Palace.
Still, the loss of Bagel Palace, like the closure of kosher Broadway Cafe last year, is about more than the food. Longtime, family-owned eateries are key parts of their neighborhoods and help define them and give them character.
Even for those who rarely ate there — including a significant portion of the heavily Orthodox population around it — Bagel Palace served as a reference point in both time and space (it gets harder and harder to give directions to find a specific point in that shopping center).
As at least one Facebook commenter wrote, “And so goes another Atlanta landmark.”
That’s why the end of Bagel Palace feels so wrong. It’s almost like a death in the family — and just as we hurt when a relative we love dies, even if we haven’t seen that person in years, so we as a community feel the loss of Bagel Palace, regardless of when we last popped in for an onion bagel with cream cheese.
So here’s hoping that owners of Bagel Palace can find a new location, one in Toco Hills or at least close by. Our community needs its landmarks, and it needs its loved ones.