The lines were long and so were the reminiscences at Courtney’s Bagel Café & Deli in Owings Mills Tuesday morning as customers old and new dropped in to have one last egg and cheese on a toasted everything or pick up a big bag of the shop’s freshly made bagels, lovingly prepared by owner Susan Leeming.
“My neck is burning. I’ve been here since 2:30 this morning. I should have been here at midnight!” Leeming said as she sat down at the counter to take a break after seven hours of bagel-baking.
But before Tuesday, two days before the shop was to close its doors, Leeming had been running the café for 20 years, since May of 1999, when, with her 5-year-old daughter Courtney in tow, she opened up shop at 11000 Owings Mills Boulevard in Owings Station.
A little teary and a lot tired, Leeming said she wasn’t closing the café for lack of business, but more because her lease was up, her mom’s been ill and she needs some downtime.
She was hoping the transition wouldn’t be too difficult for everyone, her staff included, as she had lined up someone eager to take over Courtney’s.
“I wasn’t going to renew my lease. And at the 11th hour we found a buyer,” Leeming said. “He gave me a deposit, a letter of intent and went off to Greece for two weeks.”
Leeming said a week before the prospective buyer returned, the shopping center owner texted her to say he had leased the space to someone else.
According to shopping center owner Peter Bosworth, of Bosworth Properties, he leased the space to Quarry Bagel & Café owner Mahmoud Shinnawi.
Shinnawi said the menu would be similar to, but simpler than, the menu at his shop. He hopes to open sometime in March.
Before opening Courtney’s, Leeming managed Burke Bagels in the Owings Mills mall, which her mother owned. Her uncle Marvin ran a bagel shop in Pikesville and her late brother ran a White Marsh bagel shop.
Tearing up, Leeming said she loves her customers and will miss them all. “I’m full of gratitude for every one of them,” she said. “I’m really sad. I love what I do. I love my customers.”
She said her homemade “flagels,” flat bagels, are one of many customer favorites.
Dean Katz and Michael Rosman of Reisterstown have been coming to Courtney’s since it opened.
“We remember when the Ravens were across the street,” Katz said, referring to the former Baltimore Ravens headquarters, now the site of Stevenson University. “It’s very cozy, it’s very inviting. It’s a family-type atmosphere. Everybody’s friendly.”
He and Rosman come every week or so and the twist bagels are their favorite.
“They’re the best. We just ordered two dozen. And the bialys, you can’t really get anywhere,” Katz said. “And you’re supporting a family-owned business, which means a lot more than the big chains.”
Stevenson University students Taylor Donaldson, Samantha Kreps and Gabriella Lopresti were enjoying their bagel sandwiches Tuesday, but mourning the loss of Courtney’s casual, friendly atmosphere and good food. The trio of friends have been coming to the café about once a week for four years.
“You can get anything here, lunch, breakfast,” Donaldson said. “[The employees] say hi to you, they remember you. It feels like home.”
“I’ll miss the food and how nice they are,” Kreps said. “They’re so sweet.”
Gabriella said when she calls the café to order, Courtney treats her like a best friend, calling her Gabby and asking if she wants her “usual.”
“It was just amazing,” she said, laughing. “She just knows everybody and she really does make it feel like a home environment, esp- ecially for Stevenson students.”
Behind the cash register, Courtney, 25, said she’ll miss working with her mom every day at the cafe that has been her “whole life.”
“I’ll miss all of our customers, our regulars. There are so many of them,” she said. “I would come here before school, after school. I went to Stevenson University, so I’d come in between classes. It’s very bittersweet.”
“The outpouring of love and support is so overwhelming and I’m really grateful,” she added. “I would love to see everyone again.”
Wayne Turnbaugh of Reisterstown has been the friendly face behind the counter for 12 years. He credits Leeming with giving him a job when, post- incarceration, no one else would.
“I knocked on door after door to get a job and no one would hire me,” he said, tearing up. “She was the only one. They are more family to me than my own family. They’ve always been there for me.”
The boisterous Sal McCalla has been cooking in Courtney’s kitchen for 18 and a half years. He’s going to miss “a lot of it.” To his loyal customers he says, “Ah man. You guys are welcome. Every time.”
As the morning rush got busier and the line longer, Leeming contemplated life after Courtney’s and the new possibilities.
“I might end up with a Courtney’s tuna truck, you never know!” she said. “It’s in my blood. I don’t think I’m finished.”