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Tracking the bagel bunch that rolls into a busy shop

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Debbie Maiste starts most of her days by facing hordes of hungry teen-agers. They fill up the Einstein Brothers Bagel shop she runs near the corner of Falls Road and Cold Spring Lane and grab a few bites of breakfast before heading over to Poly/Western high schools.

Sharing a small space with masses of spirited high schoolers doesn't faze Maiste.

"They're kids," she said. "If they get too loud, or if they are late for school, I just walk over and give them my Mom-glare." The Mom-glare, Maiste told me, usually brings the kids around.

If Maiste sounds confident, she has reason to be. This is her turf. She knows a lot about kids and the neighborhood. She is the 47-year-old mother of eight children - Mart, Erik, Liia, Niina, Juuli, Seera, Deena and Tiiu. The youngest child is 12, the oldest is 30.

Her husband, Peep, is Estonian, and they gave the children names from his homeland. She and her husband met when they were in high school, across the street. She was a student at Western, and he was a student at Poly. "We met on a blind date." Her husband, now a surveyor, worked as a teen-ager on a construction crew building the new Poly high school. The couple raised their family a few blocks away in a house that sits on a hill towering over the intersection of Falls Road and Northern Parkway.

Maiste is also quite familiar with the strip of shops that sits on the east side of Falls Road across from the high schools. For 10 years she worked in the fast-food restaurant at the end the strip, which is now a Roy Rogers. Two years ago she began working at the bagel shop, a space that she points out used to be a Waxie Maxie store. She knows that the sub shop, Crazy Mario's, serves a cheese steak that is big and sloppy and popular with teen-age boys. She knows Papa John's is a popular after-school hangout. She even knows the spots in the strip's small parking lot that are not quite level. She tries to park in these sloped spots because her car, a 1988 Ford Probe, has a faulty reverse gear. That way, her car can coast back out of the slanted spot, and she can easily put it in forward gear.

Maiste laughed at herself as she told of her car. "Now that I am general manager of Einstein's," she said, "I am going to have to get a car with reverse." She is a quick-moving woman with short brown hair who doesn't like to sit down. "I get stiff when I sit," she said. But one recent afternoon she did sit down and, at my urging, described how she feeds her customers and her family.

She gets up at around 3 in the morning and makes her way to the shop to steam and bake the bagels and breads sold in the shop. Among her first customers are the commuters, the hard-chargers en route to the office or the big meeting. They tend to be "power bagel eaters," she said, referring to the dense, fiber-loaded type of bagel that is sometimes covered with peanut butter, for extra protein.

Then there might be a sprinkling of elementary-school kids who have rules for which side of the bagel should be smeared with jelly.

The high school kids pretty much take over the place between 7:30 and 8:20. They eat all forms of bagels, and some even order sandwiches - a smoked turkey with pepper jack cheese and ancho lime mayo, but hold the bacon - to cart to school.

After the high schoolers head across Falls Road, the quieter breakfast crowd shows up. Senior citizens who like the softer challah bread and the honey-butter spread. Occasionally a mother with preschool kids will stop by. "That midmorning-coffee-and-bagel group of young mothers was much bigger in Ellicott City," Maiste said, referring to the Howard County bagel shop where she worked for a few months before moving to the Falls Road location.

Bagel shops serve sandwiches for lunch these days, and a wide variety of lunch eaters pass through the shop, she said. There are the blue-collar guys, who like the ham and smoked cheese and roast beef sandwiches. "Something that feels substantial in their hands," she said. There are the professional women who prefer salads and sandwiches made with chicken and who are more likely than men to put "green stuff" -avocado spread - on a sandwich. Late in the afternoon, the football players might wander in, hungry guys who emerge from practice ready to take on the big hero sandwich, one loaded with ham, pepperoni, turkey, cheese, roasted peppers - the works.

The late-lunch crowd often includes folks from TV Hill. These are reporters, anchors and sportscasters from nearby stations, Channels 11, 13 and 45. The TV people look better than your average eaters - they have well-coiffed hair, smart-looking clothes and, in some instances, they are wearing their on-camera makeup. But according to Maiste, at mealtime the TV folks are like everybody else. They want to eat their meal in peace. "A couple of years ago, back when I was working at Roy Rogers, there was this guy who kept going over to [Channel 13 weatherman] Bob Turk and trying to ask him questions about the weather," Maiste recalled. "Finally I told the guy, 'Why don't you just let Bob eat his sandwich?' "

Supper is not a big sandwich- and-bagel time, so Maiste is home by early evening. In the days when all eight kids lived at home, she and her husband cooked big evening meals - supersized pot roasts, mounds of spaghetti, giant kettles of homemade soup. "My husband is a terrific soup maker," she said. She also recalled peeling pounds and pounds of potatoes.

Now that only three teen-agers are home, the cooking burden has eased for her. "My husband cooks fresh every night," she said. "On weekends, we'll cook a big pot of spaghetti. ... The teen-agers would starve if they had to operate a can opener. But the older kids, who still drop by the house, all cook."

There is also a difference in the way she treats the customers who come to the bagel shop and the kids who gather at the family dinner table. "At work, if somebody says I put the jelly on the wrong side of the bagel, I make them another bagel.

"At home if somebody complains, I say, 'If you don't want it, somebody else will eat it.' "

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