Eater is highlighting some of Atlanta’s oldest restaurants and food institutions through a series of photo essays, profiles, and personal stories. The restaurants featured are a mix of longtime familiar favorites and less well-known venerable establishments serving a wide variety of cuisines and communities in Atlanta and the surrounding metro area. These restaurants serve as the foundation of the Atlanta dining scene, and continue to stand the test of time.
Bagelicious feels like a moment captured in time within a sprawling Marietta shopping center in East Cobb. The bagel shop and deli opened its doors in 1990 and not much has changed since then — at least inside.
“There was a one-lane highway. A lot of changes come from one lane to six lanes,” says Tom Carola, who owns Bagelicious with his wife Carol. “I mean, right through these windows right here. So, it’s changed.”
Inside, the deli looks as it did 33 years ago. Blue cafe tables comprise the dining room, and New York Yankees memorabilia line the walls. Cold cases overflow with classic deli items often hard to find in Atlanta. The only social media presence for Bagelicious comes from regulars posting to an unofficial Facebook fan page or tagging its location with a photo to Instagram.
Oh, and Bagelicious is cash (or check) only. Carola says the credit card machine he does have is used for catering gigs. But even in an ever-growing suburban county like Cobb, Bagelicious continues to lure guests from all over metro Atlanta with the promise of New York-style Jewish deli bagels, salads, and meaty sandwiches.
In the time since Bagelicious opened three decades ago, chains like Goldbergs Fine Foods and Einstein Bros. Bagels have opened around the metro area. So what keeps people coming back to Bagelicious? Carola doesn’t mince words.
“I put a good product out there for 30 years. Some people steam [the bagels]. It’s not a good product,” he says. “We boil [bagels] an original way, and it’s not the water in New York, because [that’s] a lie.”
Bagel dough is always prepared on Sundays, before being shaped into rings, then boiled, and finally baked. In addition to bagels, the deli cases contain ten different types of cream cheeses, like olive and scallion, various pickles, tuna fish salad, white fish salad, chicken salad, and egg salad, and meats, including pastrami, corned beef, sliced turkey breast, and beef tongue, something Carola says people can’t find at similar delis in metro Atlanta. There’s also an array of cookies, ranging from black and whites to Linzer tarts.
Bagelicious takes up most of Carola’s time. It’s not unusual to find him working behind the counter slicing meat for sandwiches or preparing orders. When he’s not at Bagelicious, Carola is either at home or coaching little league during baseball season at a nearby park. While Carola doesn’t feel particularly emotional about the business, people in the community certainly do.
Karen Bowen moved to East Cobb from New Jersey in the 1990s and says Bagelicious is a taste of home.
“It was one of the few bagel shops that was true to what I’m used to from New Jersey, so when I was in high school, we went there a bunch,” says Bowen, who still lives in East Cobb. Her kids grew up going there, and now her high school-aged daughter has a job at Bagelicious on the weekends.
Bowen feels another connection to Bagelicous, too, thanks to the role it plays in East Cobb’s Jewish community, pointing to the cultural foods she says aren’t easily found in the OTP suburbs.
Younger generations are also loyal to Bagelicious. Lori Lockwood grew up in East Cobb and went to Bagelicious with her family every weekend. She says there were always bagels in the house from Bagelicious.
Bagelicious ended up playing a bigger role in Lockwood’s life than imagined. Her husband proposed to her there. It was supposed to happen along the Chattahoochee River, but the weather forced a change of plans and her husband ended up proposing outside of Bagelicious as her friends and family cheered from inside.
“It is the only reservation they have ever taken (I think), for at least such a long amount of years, for our friends and family,” says Lockwood, who now lives in Brookhaven.
These days when Lockwood visits family in East Cobb with her one-year-old in tow, she makes it a point to stop by Bagelicious. Lockwood regularly orders either a sesame seed bagel with vegetable cream cheese or the Tuna Luna sandwich on an everything bagel (hold the tomato and add munster cheese).
Bagelicious doesn’t do social media, nor does it have a website. Everything people know about the bagel shop and deli is spread through word of mouth.
“I don’t do any marketing at all,” says Carola. “I get new customers all the time that say, ‘Oh, man, somebody just told me you’ve got the best whatever for 30 years.’ It’s been spread around the community.”
A restaurant’s future is never certain, but Bagelicious is still gaining new patrons every day and includes a bevy of loyal, longtime customers. Some people drive great distances to eat there, since New York-style Jewish delis like Bagelicious are hard to come by in metro Atlanta.
“They drive by five Goldbergs to get to me, so that’s impressive. I love that,” says Carola.
His children — Hannah Dombrowski and Alex Carola — plan to take over the business from their father when he finally retires and hope to keep everything the same as it’s been for over 30 years at Bagelicious.
Although, they may start taking credit cards.
Open daily, 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Bagelicious, 1255 Johnson Ferry Road, Marietta.
Lia Picard (@helloitsliapicard) is a lifestyle writer who has called Atlanta home for nearly a decade. Her work frequently appears in Atlanta magazine, the New York Times, Eater, and Garden & Gun, among other publications.