|Marc Becker, left, with Once Upon A Bagel owners Shana and Steve Geffen|
Marc Becker is a baker, the son of a baker, and the grandson of a baker. Baking is his life. When he moved his Leonard’s Bakery—named for his father—Chicago to Northbrook in 1987 he was 28 years old. Last spring, when COVID struck, he was 61.
A lifetime worth of almond horns, poppyseed cookies, onion bagels and cinnamon rugelach, of customers and suppliers and days that start at 3:30 a.m. Then it just stopped. Leonard’s was a small space; behind the counters was hard for two clerks to pass each other. In the spring of 2020, the pandemic was new and surging. He shut the bakery down for five weeks.
His friends and family urged him to re-open. So he gave it a try. That lasted another two weeks.
“Then I said, ‘This is it. I’m done,” Becker remembered Wednesday. “I don’t want to be under these conditions.”
“I felt like I’m going to hell every day,” he said. “I used to go to work and have the best time of my life. I loved it. Now I hated, hated, hated it.”
That was clear. I happened to go to Leonard’s just before it closed for good. Usually I’d chat with Marc. But with social distancing, a line out the door, there wasn’t time. Becker seemed frazzled, anxious. He was worried about his employees.
“For all these people to get sick?” he said. “The customers.”
Leonard’s permanently closed last May. A shock, then then it never should have been there in the first place, an authentic outpost of Chicago Yiddishkeit in a strip mall next to a suburban Dairy Queen. I wasn’t a regular customer; in fact, I had a personal rule: I never went to Leonard’s alone. “Because if I did, I’d go every day.” I explained. So I’d take the boys after a game, or guests—out-of-towners insisted on visiting Leonard’s on their way home, to stock up. It was that good.
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