Standing among Main Campus’ academic buildings is a small red hut at 13th Street and Berks Mall. It may not be an educational facility but is a product of hard work and dedication.
Mike Sigal, 38, owner and operator of the Bagel Shop, is often seen wearing a backward hat with a Velcro strap and a short sleeved T-shirt. His young face looks worn – a result from years of serving hungry students everything from assorted hot bagels, sandwiches and hoagies to cigarettes, phone cards and batteries.
Sigal, who is a Russian immigrant, works 16 hours each of the five weekdays and nearly nine hours on Saturdays. He wakes up at 3 a.m. to pick up freshly made bagels from a local bakery. Arriving at Main Campus by 3:30 a.m., Sigal takes two hours to set up for his long day.
Cherie Williams, a senior sociology major, buys food from Sigal at least four or five times a week.
During a recent visit to the Bagel Shop, Williams asked for an “everything” bagel.
“Coffee, too?” Sigal asked Williams. “Medium, right? Four sugars?”
“He knows my sugars,” Williams added with a laugh.
“Thank you,” said Sigal, handing the young woman her order.
“See you tomorrow,” she said.
Williams said Sigal is one of her favorite vendors.
“He’s really nice, and he’s been out here for a couple years,” she said. “He always knows everyone face to face, and he always knows my order. He’s very sweet all day. He’s very charming.”
But she isn’t the only student who appreciates Sigal’s familiarity with his patrons.
Sophomore psychology major Louis Kemp is also a regular customer.
“He knows my usual. [I come here about] three times a week,” Kemp said. “It’s good, it’s cheap, and he seems to know everyone in line and their orders. He has the best breakfast on campus.”
Sigal came to the United States in 1988. Leaving Russia with his mother, father and brother at age 18, Sigal chose to come to America for more opportunities. After working as a technician, fixing cell phones and beepers in his cousin’s electronics store in Germantown, Sigal bought the Bagel Shop in 2002.
“Beeper business got real slow, and I have a family to support,” the Northeast Philadelphia resident said. “I was on unemployment, looking for jobs. Nobody was hiring. I was looking for a lot of businesses, and my parents were friendly with this guy who owned [the Bagel Shop]. He was kind of old and was selling the place, and I really liked it – lots of people, lots of action.”
Sigal’s wife, Yvette, is also a native of Russia, but the couple met in the United States. She stays home with the their two sons, ages 1 and 7, while Sigal runs the shop.
“On Sundays, I try to relax, but my wife gives me so many projects,” Sigal said.
Some Temple students take out loans for more than $20,000 to $30,000 to receive an education they hope will provide the tools necessary to make a good life in the real world.
Sigal, who once took classes at Community College of Philadelphia so he could learn English, works 89 hours a week.
Using his strong work ethic, he earns a living the old-fashioned way.
“I want to see my kids go to college and just get good jobs,” Sigal said. “My wife wants them to go to Harvard and everything. She doesn’t want them to do this. This is too hard.”
Tom Rowan can be reached at email@example.com.