The brand is targeting select franchisees to expand with, instead of specific markets.
Founded by two Puerto Rican migrators in 1972, H&H Bagels has long been a classic New York City concept popping up in TV shows based in the Big Apple.
In 1997, “Seinfeld” featured the bagel brand in its iconic Festivus episode, which “TV Guide” ranked as the third-best holiday episode of all time. In an episode of “Sex and the City,” main character Carrie Bradshaw is seen delivering a bag of H&H to her friend, and in the sixth season of “The Office,” Dwight Shrute brings a basket of bagels to his coworkers while holding a bag with H&H’s tagline, “Like no other bagel in the world.”
Nationwide audiences have laid eyes on the bagels multiple times, but haven’t had the same level of access since H&H has chosen not to expand beyond New York’s borders. But that will soon change, with the four-unit chain officially announcing its first franchise program in company history.
CEO Jay Rushin says the decision has been in the works for more than a year as H&H looks ahead to its next 50 years of growth. The four New York locations will remain corporate-owned while franchisees will primarily lead the brand into other states.
Potential franchisees have already expressed interest in the legacy brand because of its durability and the fact that bagels remain a relatively untapped whitespace opportunity, Rushin says.
“Pretty much every product category has its premium players, whether you want to talk pizza, or burgers or whatever category, and there’s a missing link with bagels,” Rushin says. “The food world is gravitated toward higher-quality, better-for-you products, and our products are all-natural, no preservatives, and authentic New York bagels. There’s no one else that can compete with us on that product.”
Instead of looking at specific geographic markets, H&H is targeting the best franchisee candidates. Amid this search, the chain isn’t aiming for a specific type of operator. Rushin says they might be a multi-unit operator looking to add a new brand to their portfolio or a first-time franchisee looking to start a new career.
Franchisees will receive support in site selection, store construction, opening launch, marketing, and brand-building advising.
“We’re in a fortunate position because we have a real growing company without franchising, so we’re not under pressure to sign deals and open units just for the sake of it,” Rushin says. “So we can sit back and really choose the franchisees that we think are going to not only succeed, but add value to the entire organization and the right people for the company.”
When Rushin joined H&H in 2014, he implemented a more national approach. In 2017, the brand launched its national wholesale business at retail purveyors across the country. During COVID, the company witnessed a 500 percent increase in nationwide shipping and a 400 percent rise in its global wholesale business. Additionally, with more consumers turning to off-premises, combined with the portability of bagels, H&H’s delivery mix has risen to roughly 60 percent.
“Fast forward through a lot of ups and downs over the history of the company, it’s still an iconic, New York brand with a legendary product,” Rushin says. “When I took over in 2014, it needed some help. So for me, that was the opportunity to find this underinvested, amazing brand that we could turn around and fix it up and improve upon its legacy.”
“The future’s an even better second 50 years from the first 50 years,” he continues. “My goal is just to bring our iconic brand and legendary products to around the country so maybe people don’t have to go all the way to New York to get a great bagel anymore.”