August 11, 2010

A Bittersweet Bagel Dream for Tom Grady

Tom Grady, left, and Lyell Castanguay chat  with customer Kevin Golden at Brooklyn Bagel House.
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – A dream deferred can sometimes mean even more, once realized.
That's how Tom Grady is looking at his fortunate circumstance, as new owner of Brooklyn Bagel House. He couldn't have imagined a decade ago that he'd be lucky enough to find a loophole in the corporate rat race, an escape hatch from middle management of a restaurant chain, thanks to an old friend.
“Paul took over this place 10 years ago. I joined him a year later,” said Grady, talking about Paul Audette, who reluctantly retired from the bagel business after years of trying to keep ahead of the cancer that has now settled into his bones.
Audette, 59, was diagnosed about seven years ago, said Grady. Early surgery wasn't enough, revealing that the cancer had already spread beyond his prostate.
“They've been monitoring it, and he's been through radiation. He even tried a radical hormone therapy, but it got away from him. He worked through it – I think in January he finally realized it was time to come up with a plan for the future of the business,” said Grady.
The two men met years ago, when Grady was a regional supervisor for Bickford's Restaurants, and Audette managed a couple of the breakfast-centered eateries in Nashua and Manchester.
“We were really just business acquaintances, but I guess we sort of recognized something in each other. Paul had the opportunity to buy this business and left Bickford's. It wasn't long before he looked me up. He knew I'd since left Bickford's too – the company was changing, and I never really liked what I was doing. I was actually working at George's Pizza in Chester when I got the call. He said he couldn't do it alone,” said Grady.
Audette made him an offer he couldn't refuse, and he became Audette's right-hand man.
“When it was pretty clear that Paul was finally going to step back from the business, he asked me if I wanted to buy it. Of course, it was a dream come true for me – I'd tried owning a business back in the '80s, but it didn't work out for me at that time. I had a family to support. I couldn't risk going without a paycheck. I'd just kind of given up on the idea that I'd ever get another chance,” Grady said.
The two discovered they had some deeper restaurant roots – both had started out working for Howard Johnson's, back in the day.
“I think it was the training that made us both good at what we do, it just becomes automatic, that corporate training. I never liked being in the corporate end of things, but it's served me well,” said Grady.
Of course, economic times are tough. Businesses are shuttering all over. Banks are still moving with caution, and no one is particularly anxious to make business loans – especially in the restaurant business. Grady told Audette he didn't think he'd be able to get the financing, but Audette was determined that his “right hand man” was the right man to take over the business.
“We worked out a deal where there's no outside financing,” said Grady. “Yeah. It's great. We are like a big family here – I'm grateful – so grateful to Paul for this opportunity. I'm going to run with it.”
To that end, Grady's planning a week-long grand reopening. He's not changing the name – a solid business decision that Paul made when he took it over 10 years ago, and one that still makes good sense.
“We're already established – it was Brooklyn Bagel before Paul got here. And besides, we'd have to get a new sign,” said Grady.
During the week of August 23, Grady will offer customers five days of free coffee, door prizes, raffles and gift certificates, with a little help from neighboring businesses, a small close-knit cluster of shops that make up the Clearbrook Center on Linlew Drive.
He has banners ready to roll out, and balloons on order. He's tweaking the menu, and installing new ceiling tiles, the first of several décor updates he will tackle, slowly but surely.
He is retaining the current team of cooks, cashiers and servers that make Brooklyn Bagel feel like home – losing longtime right-hand man Lyell Castonguay, a recent college graduate, and elevating Mike Elliot, as new right-hand man.
“I've been with Paul and Tom for three years, and Tom made me an offer I couldn't refuse,” said Elliot, a recent UNH grad with a degree in business management. “It started for me as a summer job, to get my mom off my back, but it's a great place to work – great people to work for.”
Grady said the grand reopening is also a way to remind people that he's there.
“More traffic would certainly help. We have a good business, but in these times, more is always better,” said Grady.
“Paul hasn't been back since he left July 1. He's gotten as far as the parking lot, but says he's too tired to come in. I think it's more than that. I think it's been hard for him to leave, and even harder to come back. Maybe he'll feel up to coming in for the grand reopening,” Grady said. “I hope so. I miss him.”

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