When Cliff Nordquist, ’90, and James O’Connell, ’90, founded Just Bagels in 1992, philanthropy wasn’t their No. 1 priority — growing the business and paying the bills was. But now that the company has established roots in its Bronx neighborhood, supporting the neighbors has become a part of daily operations, even though business is down 60 to 70 percent.
Until COVID-19 hit, Just Bagels sold their distinctive line of water-bath bagels nationally and internationally to large retailers such as Fresh Direct, Whole Foods, and Starbucks; airlines such as United Airlines; college campuses; Marriott and Hilton properties; and Barnes & Noble cafes in all 50 states. Now, with the market upended by the pandemic, Just Bagels President Nordquist said his biggest revenue generator is QVC.
“We are non-stop with QVC,” he said. “We started with them last May, and it’s what’s keeping us alive.”
The market may be uncertain, but Just Bagels’ continued commitment to the neighborhood isn’t. The company has started donating bagels to frontline workers and nurses in nine local hospitals in the Bronx.
“Being here so long, as you grow, you want to give back, so we love giving back and supporting the local community,” he said. “We have donated to churches, homeless shelters, the local police station, and food pantries, and I thought that would be a nice thing to do, to give something to our frontline workers, so we started. We can’t do it forever, but the neighborhood knows they can come in and we will be there, supplying the bagels.”