09/21/09 — Makin' the bagels

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Makin' the bagels

By Laura Collins
Published in News on September 21, 2009 1:46 PM

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Davy Estrada, left, helps News-Argus reporter Laura Collins scoop hot bagels from boiling water early Tuesday morning at Five Star Restaurant and Caterers on North Berkeley Boulevard.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third installment of a new series by News-Argus reporter Laura Collins. She will be spending time doing various jobs around the community.

The Company: Five Star Restaurant and Caterers

The Job: Bagel maker and counter helper.

The Location: Goldsboro.

It's possible I no longer have fingerprints.

Working at Five Star Restaurant and Caterers making fresh, piping hot bagels pretty much seared those right off.

The day began around 5 a.m. with baker Davy Estrada showing me the ins and outs of making New York-style bagels from scratch. It sounded simple enough: Drop the dough in boiling water, remove it from the water, rinse with a hose, add seasonings and pop in the oven.

Out of the entire process, it was the hose that gave me the most trouble. It is deceptively hard to control, and I accidentally sprayed Estrada in the face. Twice.

"I already took a shower today, Laura, you can stop doing that," he said.

After dropping several bagels, it's likely I lost the restaurant more money than I brought in.

"You're better than horrible," Estrada said. Not quite the accolades I was expecting, but I'll take what I can get.

Owner Steven Gambella arrived shortly after the baking began and works at a break-neck pace getting ready for the day. The fast-talking Brooklyn-native still finds time to throw in a couple zingers, especially when I ask if I can keep the tips I earn.

"I'll give you a tip," he said, shaking his fist at me. I'm guessing that means no.

Although they open at 6:30 a.m., the calls start coming in shortly after six for one of their many breakfast sandwich combinations and assorted bagels and cream cheese. On this day, in addition to having a completely useless extra person working (me), the credit card machine is broken and the cheese guy shows up late, all of which adds to the stress I'm feeling.

As customers start coming in, I move to man the cash register. Early on I accidentally enter an order twice. Since I haven't learned how to void an order, I just hope no one notices. I was not so lucky.

"Why's this bagel sandwich still sitting here?" Gambella asks about an hour later. No comment from me.

He checks the computer to see who entered the order.

"Why did you enter this order twice," he asked.

"It was an accident. Don't worry, I'll eat it if you want me to," I offer.

"You keep messing up and you're gonna get fat."

Another zinger.

This is exactly the kind of humor that keeps people coming back to Five Star. They come in for bagels, deli sandwiches and pizza, but stay for the show. The interaction between Gambella and Estrada is hilarious, acting like brothers who have overstayed each other's welcome by about five minutes.

Walking into Five Star feels like going back to your favorite uncle's house. They're excited to see you but they don't miss an opportunity to give you a hard time. Gambella knows most people who come in by name, and if he doesn't, he soon will. Many customers spend time chatting with Gambella about sports, politics or current events.

"It's a hometown atmosphere and that's very important. Whether they have uniforms on or not, we know their names," Gambella said. "A lot of people in this town are military, away from home. We want them to have the feeling they're back in their neighborhood deli."

There is little down time for Estrada and Gambella between the breakfast rush and the afternoon crowd, especially since the restaurant caters lunch for children at Summit Christian Academy and Wayne Child Development Center every day. The restaurant has a full catering menu that extends well beyond bagels, cold cuts and pizza.

Five Star, 212 N. Berkeley Blvd., is open Monday through Friday 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturdays 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.