Willie’s opens new cafe in Utica

Ronny Rodriguez, manager of Willie’s Gourmet Café, prepares an order at the new café at 1401 Oriskany St. in Utica. The cafe serves breakfast and lunch, including bagels, sandwiches, pastries, and wraps. (TRACI DELORE/CNYBJ)

UTICA — After five years with one location, Willie’s Bagel Café is bringing its New York-style bagels to even more people with a second location at the former Patio Drive-In property on Oriskany Street.

Willie’s Gourmet Cafe, which opened in early March, fulfills a longtime dream of owner William Rodriguez, who always wanted a location on Oriskany Street, says his son Ronny, who runs the new cafe.

When Patio Drive-In owner Lawrence Gurdo decided to retire and sell the building last summer, Rodriguez says he jumped at the chance. According to online real estate records, Rodriguez purchased the property and its 2,532 square foot building for $265,000.

The first Willie’s Bagel Café opened in 2016 and did well, Rodriguez says. The location at 219 North Genesee St., however, is a bit out of the way for some guests. Close to the Thruway and several nearby hotels, this cafe does a good business with travelers looking to grab a quick grab-and-go breakfast or lunch.

The new Willie’s Bagel Café at 1401 Oriskany St. still offers takeout, but also has something the original location doesn’t.

“The biggest difference is eating inside,” Rodriguez says. The new cafe has a large dining room where customers can sit and enjoy their meal. It’s a great choice for the more residential neighborhood, he says.

It’s also a prime location to serve Mohawk Valley Health System Wynn Hospital employees once it opens a short drive away. Scheduled to open in 2023, the hospital will employ around 3,000 to 3,500 people.

“It’s a place where families come together and co-workers come to lunch together,” Rodriguez says.

The Oriskany Street site is important to many people who live in the area and who have been used to visiting the Patio throughout its 65 years of operation. Rodriguez is proud to have brought a breakfast and lunch option back to neighborhood residents.

There are several competitors nearby, including a Dunkin’ Donuts a few blocks away, but Rodriguez isn’t worried.

“What sets us apart in general is that we deliver New York bagels to central New York,” he says. Willie’s also offers Boar’s Head brand meats for its sandwiches. “For all NYC natives, this is a big deal,” Rodriguez notes.

Along with the bagel recipe perfected by her dad — who ran a bagel shop on Long Island for 20 years — the freshness of their food sets them apart. “You can see us cooking,” Rodriguez says.

Both locations serve a variety of bagels, including seasonally colored bagels, homemade flavored cream cheeses, wraps, sandwiches, salads, soups, pastries, and more. Many sandwiches are named after family members, and those same family members help run the family business.

Willie’s Bagel Café has been fortunate to perform well during the pandemic, Rodriguez says. But now that the cases have dwindled, he is delighted to welcome old and new customers to the new place where they can relax and dine. To make things easier, they’ve invested in a pager system so customers can place their order and find a table. while they wait. Just in case the COVID landscape changes again, the new cafe has a pick-up window it can use if the need arises, Rodriguez says.

Next on the agenda for the new Willie’s Bagel Café is the addition of a conference room. “We want to build a conference room with a projector where people can have their meetings here,” he says.

About Walter Bartholomew

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