If you stop by High Point Bagels one morning, you’re almost guaranteed to find the owner, Mat Greenberg, chatting with a customer. It may be an old friend of Mat’s who has stopped by the shop, or it might be a total stranger who has never set foot in High Point Bagels. But it doesn’t matter who it is – professionals on their way to work, High Point University students just out of an early class, or retired folks taking a quiet morning, Mat will stop and ask their name, ask how they are, or check in with them from last time.
And as you listen, you’ll notice that Mat Greenberg is most definitely not from High Point; he’s not even from the south. Just like there’s no mistaking the authenticity of a fresh New York everything bagel with bacon scallion cream cheese, there’s no mistaking Mat’s New York accent.
Having grown up in Long Island, NY, Mat’s roots influence everything from the baking techniques at High Point Bagels to the way he treats his customers like they’re part of one big family. Because it wasn’t until 2004 that Mat made the journey from his home in Long Island to High Point, NC.
“I was really fortunate,” Mat says, thinking back on his childhood, surrounded by family. “But I was self-righteous and wanted some kind of a change,” he adds.
As a self-described outdoorsman, Mat was drawn to the Carolinas for our outdoor spaces. And eventually, several of the Greenbergs, including Mat’s parents, ended up in the North Carolina area. In 2019, Mat bought what is now High Point Bagels and started his business.
But Mat’s journey to being our resident bagel guy started long before he bought High Point Bagels.
“I was always in and out of the restaurant business,” Mat says, remembering days spent working in delis, pizzerias, and as a busy boy in New York. During his time catering Italian food for a friend who was an executive chef, Mat’s cooking career took a different direction.
“I was helping cater with him for a Jewish holiday,” Mat recalls. “And this guy says to me, ‘You’re a nice Jewish guy; what are you doing in Italian food?’”
Asking himself the same question, Mat tried his hand at baking by picking up early morning shifts at a local bagel shop. The details of his journey to learn the art of bagel–making blend together – he even worked for Randy, the founder of the acclaimed Bagel Boss in New York – but Mat attributes everything he knows about bagels to his mentor, J.P. It was J.P. who ultimately convinced Mat to take a chance on buying High Point Bagels to start his own restaurant.
“‘Are you nuts? You’re not going to take the shot?’” Mat remembers J.P. asking him, when Mat called with the proposition of buying his own shop. “He said, ‘If I could leave New York right now and come down there and do it with you, I would.’”
“Now it’s been a while since I baked,” Mat admits. His staff handles most of the baking, slicing, toasting, and serving, and Mat speaks to each of them as if they were his own kids. “But when I opened, it was just me and one other guy, and we’ve just been rolling with it ever since.”
The shop has grown considerably since Mat took ownership, and he prides himself on both the quality of his service and his ingredients.
“I grew up in a Jewish household in New York,” he explains. “And I grew up across the street from an Italian aunt and uncle.” He laughs, thinking back to Sunday lunch with his extended family growing up.
“There would be a salad, pasta, chicken cutlets, more pasta,” Mat says, “and then the meat came out.”
This culture of hospitality and sharing good food with those you love has driven the way Mat crafted the High Point Bagels menu, as well as the way he treats his customers, saying he treats every customer as if they were a guest in his house.
“I don’t want someone to ever say, ‘High Point Bagels didn’t feed me,’” Mat says. “I’d rather someone say, ‘This is a ridiculous portion!’”
That mentality is the advice he says he would give to any restaurant owner: know your customer and serve a good product.
“Know your customers’ names,” Mat starts. “And don’t be cheap. Don’t cut corners on your product. Whatever your product is… serve the best that you can serve. Quality is the most important thing.”
As Mat shares his story, a customer comes in and Mat pauses his work to talk, kid with the man about an inside joke, and ask how his family is doing – which is a typical conversation for Mat to have in his shop.
“They just become like family,” he explains of his regular customers. He also notes that his biological family, like his father, often does stop by the shop. Mat’s dad will try to sneak behind the counter to help, even though Mat says he just comes for free lox.
“He’ll say, ‘You’re busy, and I’m just helping out!’” Mat laughs. “I’ll say, ‘Did I ask you? Pop, sit down, drink a cup of coffee, and enjoy yourself!’”
Mat’s mock frustration with his dad is softened by the obvious respect he has for his father. Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mat and his team worked hard to keep their doors open, and his father took notice of his son’s hard work.
“My dad said to me, ‘Turn around and pat yourself on the back, kid,’” Mat recounts. “And I knew then, I was doing something right.”
Now, biological family and the family of High Point Bagels all blend together for Mat, which isn’t a surprise.
“Treat people like family,” Mat advises all business owners in High Point. “Maybe there are times when I should hold back, but I don’t. I treat people like family, like neighbors.”
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Photography by Maria West Photography