Two years ago, Gregg Linzey quit his job as a financial planner to jump head first into the restaurant business.
The bagel business, to be precise. If that wasn’t gutsy enough, in March, just as the world was waking up to the coronavirus, he launched a food truck: Chewish Deli.
“I always joke with people that I’m really pushing some of these Jewish stereotypes, going from being a financial planner to making bagels,” said the 34-year-old Alexandria resident. “I didn’t even ease my way into it. I literally quit my corporate job. I just said, ‘I’m just going to take a leap of faith here.’”
His faith — or the timing of his leap — seems to have paid off. While many dine-in restaurants have taken a financial hit from the pandemic, Linzey said the crisis has actually helped his business.
“As terrible as COVID has been as a whole, I almost feel guilty when I say that it has helped our business immensely, because as a food truck we are delivery and takeout and carryout by design,” Linzey said. “So at the height of the quarantine in April and May, we were selling out of 350 bagels in two hours on a truck, which is a lot.”
But the road hasn’t been entirely smooth. In June, Linzey got into an accident while driving home from a farmer’s market in Ashburn. A car forced his truck off the road when it moved across four lanes of traffic and cut in front of Linzey. The car clipped the food truck, sending it to the shop for repairs.
But with manufacturers closing down due to the pandemic, it took close to two months for the auto body shop to receive the necessary parts.
“I was terrified of how long it was going to take,” Linzey said. “Luckily we run the business well from a financial standpoint. So we had plenty of funds in the bank.”
Linzey grew up in Haverhill, Mass. As a child, he visited his grandmother in Brooklyn and ate at the Jewish delis and bakeries in her neighborhood. But in Alexandria, where he moved for work in 2015, he struggled to find the Jewish food he remembered.
“When I moved down here and I asked, ‘Where do I go to get a good bagel?’ They were like, ‘You don’t.’ And I was like, ‘This is crazy.’”
So he made his own. He had already taken up cooking as a hobby. Now he transitioned into baking and, eventually, bagel making. Linzey was tired of office life and wanted to be self-employed, but didn’t know how to do that at first. His friends liked his bagels. So Linzey decided to take a chance and go into bagel making full time.
In November 2018, he launched Genuine Water Bagels, a weekend pop up shop inside a friend’s restaurant in Alexandria. After a year, the two ended their partnership and Linzey decided to rebrand and go into the food truck business so he could be more mobile.
Then the pandemic hit, followed by the truck accident. To stay afloat, Linzey started selling wholesale to local eateries. The truck finally got back on the road in late August. By then, he was at work on a brick-and-mortar location in Old Town Alexandria.
Linzey signed the lease in July and began outfitting the space. That had its own frustrations. The oven that Linzey had bought, “obviously the most important piece of equipment,” took longer than anticipated to ship. And when it arrived, he discovered that he couldn’t use it due to power constraints in the building. It would have cost $8,000 in additional electrical work to make the oven usable. After some searching, Linzey found a gas oven that could fit in the building.
Linzey plans to offer “classic Jewish deli type stuff” at the eatery — Reuben sandwiches, white fish salad and matzah ball soup. Like the food truck, the food will not be certified kosher. Upon opening in early October, the restaurant will be carryout only, but Linzey wants to add dine-in in the future. As for the truck, Linzey said he plans to keep it on the road for now.