By Darlene DeVita
The following is one in a series of sneak peeks at the upcoming People of Chelsea additions by Chelsea Photographer Darlene DeVita. The new work will ultimately appear on the fence of the Chelsea Public Library (CPL) Spring of 2022 a collaboration between the People of Chelsea project and the CPL.)
“My name is Richard Katz, k-a-t-z. We prefer to say Kates, rather than Katz. I was asked once when they were doing a Chronicle show here, do you mind me calling you Kates or Katz, and I said to them I really don’t give a S@#$ what you call me as long as you come and buy my bagels at Katz Bagel Bakery in Chelsea, MA. We’ve been here since 1938. My daddy started it, and then I took over maybe 50 years ago.
It was a regular bakery before, then my father turned it into a bagel bakery.
We lived upstairs for a while, then got an apartment on Sagamore Avenue, and then went up to Perkins Row in Prattville. In 1957 we moved to Marblehead, and I’ve been there ever since. I never wanted to leave the city. I was playing basketball here and had all my friends here. I have great friends from high school that I’m still friendly with.
My daddy just made bagels here, but when I started working, I started making all these other little things to increase sales and get more people in here. They still come for the bagels. We still sell a lot of bagels. We sell a lot of pizza bagels. See those balls coming out of that machine? That machine’s probably older than me…it’s made in Germany. It takes the dough and cuts it, and rounds it out into a little ball. We take the ball, of dough, and then we flatten it and send it through a sheeter, so we get a flat disc. Nobody else does that. People come from everywhere. I see people from Indiana, Michigan, coming down to take bagels down to Florida because the bagels from Florida suck. And these pizza bagels are absolutely delicious.
I learned how to bake all the other things we make by myself. I like to sell it and make people happy. Most of the things I bake here are the best you can buy, like the muffins. I have the old Jordan Marsh recipe. I don’t sell a lot of them, but I like to make them because I know the people who buy them keep on buying them.
For the chicken pot-pies? It’s a 4-day process. I’ll cook them tomorrow, cut the dough out tomorrow, and then Friday I bake all the other stuff, and Saturday I put all the chicken pot pies together, corn, peas, carrots, no celery, I hate celery. It’s a pain in the butt putting the top on. I have to do it with my fingers all the way around and then squeeze the #%&T out of it, so that’s another day. I use a lot of chicken, and I make my own roux. They’re available Sundays.
I used to make 50-60 challah a week. They just don’t sell. All the Jewish people are gone, and the other customers don’t realize how good it is.
The bagel dogs are imported from Chicago. There isn’t a hot dog around here that can compare to it. It’s called the Vienna Beef. It’s got little peppers and the whole thing. They are absolutely delicious.
I didn’t want to be a baker. I wanted to be a dentist. So I went to college at the University of Rhode Island. I had a 4-year basketball scholarship, and instead of studying, I liked women, and I liked beer, so I used to go into Providence and party every weekend, and after a year and a half of that, and playing basketball, I flunked out.
I stayed out of school for six months, went to BU, and finally graduated with a degree in liberal arts. And then I decided I was going to be a teacher, and I went to my high school in Marblehead, and I saw all the old teachers in cheap suits, dandruff in their hair, walking around like old men and women, and I said Nah, I don’t want to be a teacher, I’ll be a bagel maker. So that’s what I wound up doing, and while I was a bagel maker I went to law school. That didn’t work out, and I became a bagel baker again.
My wife worked for a while, but how could she work? We had four kids. I was in the bakery 24/7 all the time. It bothers me, but I had no choice. If I wasn’t here for the bakery, it would have gone to hell in a hand-basket. My father had a stroke when I was in the reserves during the Viet Nam War. Somebody said to me that you have to apply for a hardship discharge so that you can run the bakery; you’re the sole surviving son. I know the bakery would have died without me being here.
I used to own this building; my father owned the building. I turned them into condos for first-time home-buyers, and I went through an organization, Chelsea Redevelopment.
Come back and see me again! Let me know how the pie was. I take criticism fine. I like to improve whatever I do. I don’t get insulted.
THANK YOU, RICHARD Katz, for your time, and your generous support to keep this project going…and your wonderful bagels!