Family at Bongiorno Bagels finds key to making bagels really is New York City water

Bongiorno Bagels, John Bongiorno, Sam Bongiorno, Ed Cancro
(From left) John and Sam Bongiorno and Ed Cancro have found the deli’s hours are something that works for their family. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)

(From left) John and Sam Bongiorno and Ed Cancro have found the deli’s hours are something that works for their family. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)

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After boiling, John Bongiorno puts the bagels on redwood boards covered with burlap that keeps the wet bagels from sticking to the oven while being baked at 600 degrees. They make about 750 bagels on weekdays, 1,500 on weekends. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)
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The shop is decorated with family touches, including nods to Ed Cancro's service in the New York City Fire Department. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)
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Bongiorno Bagels also is New York deli that serves the lunch crowd. The sandwich creation satisfies the chefs' desire to create while still giving customers New York flavors, Sam Bongiorno said. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)
Editor's note: Because of the coronavirus situation, Bongiorno Bagels, 3107 S. Gilbert Road, Ste. 101, Gilbert, is closed Monday-Thursday for the time being. It is taking call-ahead orders Friday-Sunday to minimize time in the shop. 480-588-8222.

If you have heard water being the key to a good bagel is a myth, Sam Bongiorno has something to say.

“The water is definitely the key for us,” she said.

Sam and husband John discovered this as they prepared to open Bongiorno Bagels in 2018 with Sam’s father, retired New York firefighter Ed Cancro.

The Bongiornos met at culinary school in New York. They later moved to Gilbert, with John working as a resort chef and Sam as a catering sales manager at Arizona State University.

Around the dinner table one night, Sam’s mom suggested starting a bagel shop. The Bongiornos balked at first. They were chefs with no expertise in bagels. Eventually, though, they warmed to the idea.

John left for New York to learn how to make bagels. He asked shops to let him hang around and learn for a couple weeks, but only one relented to his request—with conditions.

“They said, ‘You can watch us,’” Sam said. “’You can’t see the recipe. You can see the ingredients.’”

From there, they tried to recreate the recipe. Gilbert’s water proved too hard for good bagel consistency, so they switched to filtered, but they still were not sold.

Then one night, they saw a commercial for the New York WaterMaker filtration system. Despite their skepticism, they called, and the company asked them to send a water sample. It returned the sample after running it through the system that brings it to New York City levels of minerals. A bagel batch ensued.

“They were completely different,” she said. “The texture was spot on. We got the right amount of blisters on the bagel, which is super important. ... So we were like, ‘this is awesome.’”

Though the system was expensive, the Bongiornos signed on and had their New York bagels, with which they also make deli breakfast and lunch sandwiches. Boar’s Head meat and cheeses are used.

Now, John bakes, and Sam and Ed work up front. Everyone gets home early.

“We didn’t get into the business to get rich,” Sam said. “We want to keep the family roots.”

Remembering the fallen

Co-owner Ed Cancro was a New York City firefighter who served at ground zero on 9/11. Shortly afterward, with so many vacancies, Cancro was promoted to lieutenant. He retired in 2014. Coming to Gilbert, he has built relationships with many town firefighters who often frequent the shop.

The family closes the shop two weeks during the year: one for a summer vacation and the other for the week of 9/11 to honor the fallen.

Bongiorno Bagels

3107 S. Gilbert Road, Ste. 101, Gilbert


Hours: Tue.-Sat. 6 a.m.-2 p.m., Sun. 7 a.m.-2 p.m., closed Mon.
By Tom Blodgett
Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent 30 years in journalism in Arizona and is the editor of the Gilbert edition of Community Impact Newspaper. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he now serves as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.


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