“I’m from Queens; we don’t get scared,” Gerardo Natale said at the beginning of his episode of the Food Network’s “Cooks vs. Cons,” from which he ultimately emerged victorious despite being a conartist pitted against two chefs. Almost four years later, Natale decided to ditch his con-artist status and embrace his culinary gift, opening Bagel Parlor at 14-37 150th St. in Whitestone.
The self-proclaimed “pizza man turned bagel baker” grew up learning from his father, who owned Denado’s, a pizza parlor in Bellerose, and previously a bakery in Maryland. Natale spent his days studying the trade, but strayed from the art as he grew older, eventually selling the store at age 24 and becoming an electrician at Con Edison.
“My wife, then girlfriend, and I used to watch the shows and she always said, ‘You could do that,’” said Natale, who had only cooked for family and special occasions at the time. At his wife, Julia’s, suggestion, Natale auditioned for the show that had judges guess which participants are real chefs and which are pretending to be. His 2016 win over two career chefs reawakened his passion for cooking.
“I thought, you know what? I do like cooking, I’m a people person, I want to be behind the counter with the action,” said Natale.
Natale opened the bagel shop in October, but only just celebrated the grand opening on Feb. 4. The space had previously operated as Village Bagel, and was run by his uncle, but Natale bought the property as his uncle decided to retire.
“My friends thought I was crazy to open a bagel shop here because ‘Utopia Bagels runs Whitestone,’ but they’re on the other side of town,” said Natale. “I have a lot of admiration for them, and they inspire me to be the best that we can be here, but we’re not them.”
Natale describes pizza as “his first love,” and considered opening a pizza shop of his own, but his uncle who sold him the property advised against it because the hours would make it difficult to spend time with Julie and their two kids, 5-year-old Adrianna and 15-month-old Vito.
“The hours are early, but I can be home for dinner. I started researching bagels and brainstorming at home. I always made pizza and focaccia at home, but then I started making bagels at home on the weekends. Practicing, practicing, have my uncle show me things, think about the neighborhood. I considered the proximity to Utopia, but I wanted to provide the people of Whitestone with a place they could call theirs on this side of town.”
His love of pizza stays alive through the shop — Natale named his bagel shop and sells pizza bagels as an homage to his father.
As the bagel shop enjoys its first year in operation, Natale continues to work full-time for Con Edison as well as coach the St. Francis Preparatory School football team.
“It’s possible [to juggle these responsibilities] because I have a great support system at home with my wife, mom, Olga, and mother-in-law, Anna, and have a great team of employees at the store. They’re the heartbeat of it all!”