The Dago Bagel Story

Headshot photo of Tony G

It was January 27, 2021. Finally, the end of 2020, a year I wanted to forget. We were in the middle of the pandemic that touched everyone’s lives, and every day you were reminded of the divisions in our country and the toll of the pandemic. Some people became angry with fear. San Francisco is home for me, and my businesses all started in North Beach, Little Italy, and someone from our neighborhood was trying to shut my business down in every way. He barked at me and my employees. He called every city department you could imagine to complain about my restaurant. It was a very hard time for everyone, and the businesses trying to stay open faced real pressure because we were trying to feed our customers, support our employees, and keep everyone safe. At the time I was very depressed and anxious, and tried to motivate myself by looking ahead. I started working on a local craft bakery concept, and one of the items I wanted to bake was a true NY bagel, which I was working on with my friend Adam Sachs. The new project was a great distraction from the chaos and anxiety, it gave me something exciting to look forward to and something to learn and develop. I like that kind of challenge.

Growing up, I didn’t have real experiences with racism—my grandparents are from Italy, Spain and Portugal. Sure, kids made fun of my last name or sometimes you would hear gossip about locals or critics not liking Italians but, nothing came across to me as direct and personal. Until January 27. That guy who was trying to shut my restaurant down came up to me on the corner of Union and Stockton in front of Tony’s. We got into a conversation about my restaurant down and then all of the sudden he yelled, “All you f—ing Dagos and Wops are alike. You f—ing Dagos!!! I’m going to kick your ass around this building. You come here, you’re just good for nothing Dagos and Wops.” I couldn’t believe it, this man was nearly seventy years old and he told me before that he had a heart condition. I could have easily punched his lights out. I literally thought of my grandparents and the disrespect this man was giving me. His anger was so deeply rooted in his racism. For the first time, I realized that he didn’t want to shut me down because of something that had to do with some COVID protocols, he wanted to shut me down because to him I was a “Dago.” His words took me aback.

Headshot photo

If you’re not familiar with the word Dago here is the definition: “an ethnic slur referring to Italians and people of Italian origin or ethnicity and sometimes Spaniards and the Portuguese (derived from the common Spanish name Diego).” For some reason, this guy was angry with me because of where he thought my family came from. It was late morning about 11am when this happened and my general manager, who is from Calabria, Italy, overheard the guy yelling. I explained what happened, as he couldn’t believe it. No, not in North Beach, Little Italy! I didn’t fight back, you can’t convince someone with that hatred, and I just told him to move along. I filed a complaint case # 210 060 345 at the local police department word for word. I then went into my kitchen that day and tried to get my mind off his words, and on to something good. I started thinking about the bakery. I had this bagel concept on my mind and I wouldn’t let him get me off track. I wasn’t about to post it on social media. I realized I can use this negative energy and make something positive from it. Dago Bagel was born. Handcrafted, boiled and baked. Not one bagel is alike, just like you and me. For every bagel sold proceeds go to the SF Italian Athletic Club Foundation to help preserve and celebrate the Italian culture in our community.