In this installment of Meet the Merchant we talk to JP Figaro of Hole in One Bagels. A Brooklyn native himself, Figaro saw a need in southwest Florida for a nostalgic NYC deli experience and opened Hole in One’s first location after taking over the business from previous owners in April 2020. He’s since expanded the shop to serve other grocery and deli items popular in the New York area.
Clover: Hello JP! Why don’t you start by telling us about the history of Hole in One Bagels?
JP Figaro: Hole in One Bagels was an existing business here in Bonita Springs, Florida, that my partner and I bought April 1st of 2020, pretty much right when the Covid pandemic was beginning. We knew the previous owners and knew they were relying on us, so we went through with the deal and just decided that we were going to put our heads down and work the business ourselves with whatever staff was comfortable staying. We renovated the entire store and started this bagel business pandemic journey from there.
Clover: Beyond bagels, what kind of food do you serve?
Figaro: We make kettle-boiled bagels, so we bake them fresh daily. We actually get our Italian bread and our rolls par-baked from New York. So we have legitimate New York Italian bread and rolls that we serve all our sandwiches on. We get to tell our clients, “Hey, this is New York Italian bread that we bake daily,” and that provides them with a better experience, which is what we care about the most. A lot of New York, New Jersey, and Northeast residents are moving to Florida and we wanted to provide a taste of home for those customers. We also started carrying Italian products like jars of tomato sauce, canned tomatoes, De Cecco pasta, and different types of olive oils in the store. We really utilized our connections in New York to provide a lot of those items down here for people.
Clover: So what is your personal connection to this type of food? Besides growing up in Brooklyn, how did you develop a passion for Italian food and good bagels?
Figaro: My father lived in Florida for quite a while after coming from New York and his biggest complaint was always that he missed the bread and that he missed the bagels. So when I moved to Florida and was looking to expand and see what my future was going to be, bagels and deli came to mind. I saw everyone matriculating from the Northeast down and I said, you know, this is an opportunity! While there are other bagel and deli stores in the area, none of them provide that New York feel, taste and quality that we do.
Clover: So what has it been like opening a restaurant in 2020?
Figaro: It’s definitely been a challenge. Luckily we were able to stay open because we are an agricultural business and not a hotel or restaurant business. We didn’t close at all—myself, my partner, and a small staff worked every day doing what we had to do in order to make the business successful, which, I’m happy to say today it is!
During the middle of the pandemic, we did have inside seating closed and just did take out. Our demographic, being older, felt more comfortable coming in to us to get sliced turkey and sliced ham and things of that nature, as opposed to going to a larger supermarket where there’d be a lot more people. We made sure to keep everyone over six feet apart and to not to have too many people in the store at one time. Everyone in the store wore masks and gloves to protect our customers. And then once we were able to open indoor dining, we limited putting out all our tables. It was tough as a small business owner, you know, you have people to support. We have rent that we need to pay. We have employees we need to pay, not to mention feeding our own families. So we didn’t take it lightly when we had to limit tables, but the safety of our customers was more important to us.
Clover: We saw you have a second location. Did you open that in 2020 as well?
Figaro: Yes! We opened the second location in the midst of all this. It is inside a two-thousand home gated community. They have a gas station, a restaurant, a beauty salon, and a post office but they really wanted a local breakfast/lunch spot. The president of the HOA, who was a customer, approached us and said, “Would you be interested in moving into our community?” We had the reputation over the past year of providing quality food, good food, great service. Our staff works very hard to provide that so it was great that it was acknowledged. We are open to the other local communities too so it was a good play all around for everybody.
Clover: So how did you decide on Clover as your payment processor?
Figaro: Believe it or not, I actually worked for Clover as a sales rep when I first moved to Florida, so I was very familiar with the product. Once I opened my own business, I knew that Clover was the right partner for me. The things that Clover does for their small business customers and the solutions that they offer, are definitely something I’m grateful for.
For example, sales tax is a huge issue for small businesses here in Florida. I think it’s the number two cause for businesses to close because they collect the sales tax but forget to pay it or wind up spending that sales tax money before it’s due. So I use DAVO through their partnership with Clover. The fact that I don’t have to think about it because DAVO pulls my sales tax daily and pays it for me on time, gives me peace of mind. When you’re a small business owner, you have a million other things that you need to be concerned about and to take one thing off your plate really helps us focus on other aspects of our business. I’d urge any small business owner out there to definitely take a look at the solutions that Clover provides and try to utilize as many as possible.
Clover: Are there any other apps that you like?
Figaro: Yeah, the Homebase suite of apps is great. I do all my time tracking for my staff through that. Again, as a small business owner, you think you have a lot of time, but before you know it, it’s the end of the day. And you couldn’t catch up on a lot of stuff you needed to do. So a lot of the streamlining of Homebase and time tracking helped save me time.
The Clover Rewards program is also a great tool for our younger customers. We enjoy having that and tracking it and seeing how far they are away from a free sandwich. It definitely drives business because, if you’re one sandwich away from getting a free sandwich, you’re going to come to me for lunch as opposed to going somewhere else!
Clover: How do you use your point of sale systems?
Figaro: We have two Station Pros and two Minis. Our Minis are customer facing. This way we don’t have to touch the customer’s card and they can do everything themselves, which is huge. We found our customers ecstatic with not having to hand their card over anymore and to just follow through on the instructions themselves. We keep wipes next to the Clover Mini, so after each customer pays, we’re able to wipe the screen. So it’s nice and disinfected for the next customer.
Clover: That seems to have been a big perk this year for a lot of small business owners with that configuration.
Figaro: Yeah, and that’s a testament to Clover, coming up with new solutions readily and consistently trying to find new ways to come up with systems and solutions that are going to help small businesses, but also protect customers.
Clover: We know a lot of the earlier restrictions have been lifted in Florida and things are moving forward. What are your plans for the future of Hole in One Bagels?
Figaro: We’re in the process of clearing our grass area to put pavers in and add more outdoor seating. Obviously, it’s southwest Florida in June, so it’s quite hot right now. We’re going to plan on rolling the outdoor seating out in October once the weather gets better. Within the store, we are looking to expand our grocery side a bit more. You know, trying to get products customers are going to want, but also that have a longer shelf life. It’s a seasonal business down here. While we’re open year round and we love our locals, the majority of our business is done between October and April.
We are also looking at adding additional stores further south in Naples which is probably about two miles down the road. We get a lot of customers from Naples who’ve asked us to move down there and save them a trip.
And, you know, we’re grateful now. It seems like with the vaccination, we’re on the back end of this. We have all our tables out and the dining room’s full and it looks like we’re headed in the right direction.
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