Returning home after this semester was a bittersweet experience. I was sad to leave the friends and university that COVID-19 has shown I value so much, but seeing my family and having a real bagel lessened that sadness. As I have mentioned before, I have a slight personal vendetta against Collegetown Bagels, and as I spent time away from home I started to have doubts about how harsh I was to the famed establishment. While many agreed with me, others brought up well framed arguments in defense of CTB and made me have a minor crisis of faith. When I came home to New Jersey at the end of the in-person semester, I realized that I had never been more correct in my life.
There are few breakfast foods in life that are as versatile, sustaining and simple as the humble breakfast sandwich. It exists in many forms across the country, but I would argue that my home state of New Jersey does it best. Whether it’s a classic bacon, egg and cheese, or supplemented with taylor ham, few things are as great in the morning as that warm and greasy meal piled atop a soft bagel.
My local shop, the New Providence Bagel Cafe, is the platonic ideal of a bagel place: inexpensive, no-frills and full of character. If you grab one of their freshly baked bagels and tear it apart, a light toasted smell accompanies a wisp of steam like a morning dew settling off of a mountain. The shop has true character that seems lost at the new CTB. The workers chirp at each other, and the flat top grill is packed with eggs, bacon, sausage and taylor ham sizzling away. They display their bagels and assortment of schmears proudly, keeping them as the central attraction as opposed to being drowned in a sea of offerings. That said, the New Providence Bagel Cafe is not short on variety, but manages to strike a balance between enough offerings to satisfy a wide audience, while not having too many so as to overwhelm a customer.
As I’ve said before, CTB feels too corporate, tailored and manufactured to deliver the experience of a local bagel shop. With the artful glass bottles and chalkboard menu, it simply feels like it’s trying too hard, lacking the authenticity of the lived-in, college student feeling of the original establishment. That said, it has a very hard working staff, many of whom are students, that labors hard to deliver the most enjoyable experience. Despite this effort, however, I feel that CTB has lost its soul in the process of its expansion. It now seems to be curating a corporate, polished experience that turns its back on its organic, granola roots as a collegetown establishment that still lives in the memories of generations of Cornellians.
Gabe Schiffer is a sophomore in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at [email protected].