Upper Crust Bagel Co. has been a destination for bagel lovers — young and old — on Sound Beach Avenue in Old Greenwich for two decades.
On any given morning or lunch-time, the cozy shop is filled with locals, ranging from professionals to young mothers with toddlers tucked into their strollers, who sate their appetites with jaw-busting crusty and chewy bagels stuffed with cream cheese. The popular bagel shop has been drawing customers from around the region since the doors were opened two decades ago by Old Greenwich native Rob Guerrieri and his wife Amy.
To keep current with market trends and economic swings, the Guerreris have expanded their culinary offerings to include soups, salads, and earlier this year gluten- and dairy-free, vegan prepared food menu.
Two decades ago
Back in 1994, Rob was working for Mobil Oil Corp., climbing the proverbial corporate ladder with a series of transfers that had him relocating to Rochester, NY, San Francisco, Dallas and back to Rochester. The desire to continue those transfers waned when faced with a relocation to Shawnee, OK.
Rob had met Amy at a colleague's wedding in Rochester. Their romance blossomed. Rob invited Amy to visit his family in Old Greenwich. She brought bagels from her native Wayne, NJ. While driving back from Tod's Point, the couple discussed possible business ventures that would be more attractive than Shawnee, OK.
"She said why don’t we open up a bagel store. We were driving through the heart of Old Greenwich and she saw a vacant space and said 'why don’t we put it there,' " Rob recalled. "The only bagel shop in the area was in Stamford."
Rob sought and received what turned out to be an attractive severance package from Mobil.
After obtaining a small business loan, the couple recruited Amy's brother Todd, then a snowboarding and skiing instructor in Colorado, to help build out a bagel shop in that vacant storefront at 197 Sound Beach Ave.
"We put every ounce of energy into the store and opened in 1994," Rob said. "We actually hooked up with an equipment business and an ingredient business. I went to bagel college in New Jersey and in New York City to learn how to make bagels."
"I would bake the bagels, and Amy and Todd would work the counter, stock the shelves," Rob said.
He added, "We've been using the exact same recipe for 20 years." The store makes "between 5,000 and 6,000 bagels on a busy Saturday and Sunday."
Expanding the Possibilities
For two years, the trio worked seven days a week except on Christmas and Easter.
"In 1996, we branched out and opened up a location in Rye, NY. In 1998, we opened in Darien, CT. Then in 2000, Todd was kind of burned out and pulled out and Amy and I were running three businesses," Rob said.
In the meantime, the couple had had four children. They also established other businesses including a candy shop, a farmer's market and then a catering business.
By 2004, the time constraints of running three stores in the region and the other businesses while keeping up with growing family obligations, prompted the couple to sell the Darien location in 2004. In 2008, they also sold the Rye location so they could focus solely on the flagship Old Greenwich location.
In 2008, the Guerrieris partnered with Jenny Lawton, who at the time owned Arcadia Coffee a block away from the bagel shop, offering sandwiches, soups and salads on the cafe's menu.
The Guerrieris shuttered Arcadia Cafe earlier this year. Their plans to reopen the space as a family-friendly restaurant have been approved by the town and they're now partnering with local businessmen and hope to begin construction "in the very near future," Rob said.
As the the 20th anniversary of Upper Crust Bagels approached, the Guerriers "partnered with Dr. Steven Murphy of Greenwich, and organic, raw, vegan chef Heidi Fagley (in spring 2013). We’ve created all natural 'Grass Rxoots' line of food. We used the Rx in Roots because it is doctor-supervised," Rob explained.
The bagel shop now has a kiosk where the gluten-, soy-, dairy-free line of foods created by Fagley is sold.
Rob says he is grateful for the community support that has allowed their business to grow. And to that end they are hosting a birthday celebration — which will feature a giant-sized bagel, about the size of a car tire — at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 4 with various town officials expected to attend.
That celebration is just one way of saying thanks. Rob says he takes pride that they are able to provide coffee, bagels and cream cheese or sponsorship to numerous events and programs in town, ranging from the Old Greenwich School Pumpkin Patch and the Greenwich High School football team and cheerleading squad, to the Old Greenwich Civic Center soccer and baseball programs and the Greenwich Alliance for Education annual turkey trot.
"One of our successes is that we make great bagels and have a really friendly comfortable environment. And we support the community that supports us," Rob said.