New York-style deli with the ‘best bagels’ in the city – helped by an Italian-American chef

Rebecca Schrage used to nag her chef friend, Vinny Lauria, to purchase bags of Schragels to serve in his restaurants. While he never actually did, however, she received a better result.

Lauria offered Schrage free advice after transforming her bagel shop in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, into a restaurant offering a more extensive menu in the spring of this year.

“He is a good friend,” Schrage adds. “He is one of the very first chefs I came across when I started moving into bagels from the world of finance. We’re each natives of the United States from the same region. We’ve just become friends, and he’s been incredibly supportive.

“When I needed some help with the restaurant, he was someone I consulted and got feedback from.”

Schragels, the founder, Rebecca Schrage, at her food stall in Hong Kong’s Sheung Wan neighborhood. Photo: Jonathan Wong

Schrage changed towards his Jewish grandparents’ work that involved making bagels, and Lauria, the head chef at Hong Kong Italian-American restaurants Fini’s and Frank’s, both are New Americans. She was born in Massachusetts, while Lauria is from New Hampshire.

After moving away from Graham Street, in Hong Kong’s Central area, to a corner shop on Jervois Street in Sheung Wan, Schragels’ delights from the deli have grown beyond bagels.

Schragels’ Matzo ball soup. Photo: Jonathan Wong

Also available are Latkes (potato pancakes), matzo ball soup, Challah French toast, and a Reuben sandwich made with Smoked pastrami made in-house.

“I would say it’s friendly advice,” Schrage states of Lauria’s contribution. “A lot of the things I was already doing, including smoking meats or making rye bread matzo balls, etc. – but Lauria was able to help make the dishes more refined and also shared his experiences working in the kitchen.

“My background is working in an industry that produces bagels and shipping bags of bagels wholesale and for retail. As our first dine-in restaurant, I wanted it to be an authentic New York Jewish deli. It’s been a challenge; however, it’s been a lot of enjoyable.

I’m strong-willed regarding my vision and a desire to be true to my eye.

Rebecca Schrage


“From in the first days, the goal was to make it as simple as possible and produce authentic goods. When it came to making an authentic Reuben sandwich or latke the idea wasn’t to reinvent any item or adapting it to your local marketplace. It was about capturing an authentic New York delicatessen experience and trying to replicate it in this country.”

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Lauria is an Italian-American, but during his time in Manhattan, Lauria was the personal chef for a Jewish business tycoon. So, he’s well-versed in the nuances of kosher cooking and deli flavors.

“I kind of just help her improve where I can to get the ball rolling,” Lauria declares. “Rebecca needed to gain the experience of an experienced chef to assist the chef. Therefore, I gave everything I had learned to her.

Vinny Lauria, Schrage’s best friend and head chef of the Red Sauce Hospitality group behind Italian American restaurant Fini’s and Frank’s.

“As an acquaintance, she always invited me to stop by the shop. Since I enjoy talking shops and chatting shops, we had great conversations over beers and laughter. Also, I am a fan of her products and would like her to be successful.

“For me personally, I am a fan of an area where you can eat and socialize.

“It’s an idea that she has and thoughts, but I’d suggest small suggestions like ‘boil the bagels] for a bit longer and add a bit more yeast and proof the dough to a little more’ and other things like that. I was just playing around with various parts that go into making bagels until I felt it was an excellent product.”

The inside of Schragels is located in Hong Kong’s Sheung Wan neighborhood. Photo: Jonathan Wong

“Now, I truly think they’re the best bagels in Hong Kong,” the chef adds.

It’s been a tough couple of years for Schrage that went beyond the pandemic-related problems.

Along with becoming a single mom just two years ago, she took part in a partnership for a restaurant called Mendel’s, which exploded in a dispute over commercial terms with her former partners that led to a massive public scandal, which included incidents involving bodyguards guarding the entrance of the restaurant and allegations of harassing.

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Schrage claims that her lawyer has stopped her from discussing the issue since specific issues are being negotiated through the courts. However, she has attributed all the difficulties over the past three years as life lessons.

“I’ve learned a lot,” she explains. “But I’m convinced that everything happens because of some reason. Through the years, I’ve realized I can do many things by myself. I’m pretty strong-willed regarding my ideas and desire to remain faithful to the essence of what I do.

“I am also convinced that Hong Kong is one of the few locations around the globe where launching an enterprise isn’t the most intimidating thing. If you’re enthusiastic, the Hong Kongers are usually willing to assist. It’s a place to network.”

A video clip shared on social media depicts what appears to be a battle in Mendel’s Delicatessen amid the highly well-known “Bagelgate” fiasco. Photo: Instagram/@mendelsdeli

One example of this is Lauria. She says, “As a friend, I can see that Rebecca has the mentality to always strive for perfection.”

The next item on their agenda is a trip with bags of her delicious bagels and taking them on a trip to Macau as soon as the borders open. In addition to increasing the number of wholesale customers, she’s organizing the possibility of a Schragels pop-up at one of Macau’s five-star hotels in October.

“People have asked me, ‘How did you get through it all?’ and I’m like, the reality is you just get up and deal with it,” Schrage explains. “I’m an extremely positive person.

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“During the epidemic, I was grateful for the pleasure of spending time with my baby daughter. It was true that I was in my home, but it was a beautiful experience.

“Regarding the business, I am fortunate to have an excellent team that I can count on and I was able to leave work to let my business operate by itself. Since we are mostly wholesale and takeaway/delivery and takeaway, we were incredibly fortunate that we didn’t have to close for the duration of covid.”

Schrage’s confidence in her arrogance that she is a good person has played a significant role in creating better bagels. She has attempted to sell her baked products to various notable restaurants other than Lauria’s before establishing the production kitchen.

Schragels’ Reuben sandwich. Photo: Jonathan Wong

Some years ago, one chef from a Michelin-starred restaurant she persuaded to meet them was the late Gray Kunz, who owned The Upper House Hotel’s Cafe Gray Deluxe. “This was very early on,” she says.

“I recall giving him some bagels; he said they weren’t very excellent. The bagels he returned with in his suitcase, which were only just two days old, were much better than the ones I had. He did, however, send me a firm but positive email.

“I told him I appreciated the comments and would try to improve them. I ended my conversation by telling Arnold Schwarzenegger, “I’ll return’.


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