By Gaige Davila
At WillieDean Bagels, you can find a part of Broadway on Padre.
Ernie Lopez and his sister, Bella, own and operate WillieDean Bagels on South Padre Island. Since 2019, the shop has served bagels with made-in-house cream cheeses or into breakfast and lunch sandwiches. WillieDean Bages is one of only two bagel shops in the Rio Grande Valley.
Originally, Lopez wanted to open WillieDean Bagels in Harlingen, until a visit to South Padre Island changed their plans. While driving down Padre Blvd, Lopez noticed the Bada Bing Bagels store front, finding the doors locked and a “For Rent” sign on the window.
“There was already a bagel shop here, so people already have an idea, they already know about (the concept of) a bagel shop,” Lopez said.
Bella, who lives between California and the Rio Grande Valley, frequented the bagel shops of the sunshine state, with Ernie taking a liking to the bagels in San Antonio.
“We were just like ‘hey man, bagels sound good,’” Lopez said. “It gives people another option other than (breakfast) tacos.”
The name came from Bella, after watching the film “Dumplin,’” whose protagonist is named “Willowdean.”
“She said, ‘that’s catchy, that’s really catchy,’” Lopez said quoting Bella. “Willow” changed to “Willie” and the name stuck.
The New York-style, Kosher bagels are made by a baker in an undisclosed location, Lopez said, and shipped to WillieDean Bagels regularly. At any time, WillieDean Bagels will have over a dozen varieties, with classics like sesame, poppy seed, and blueberry. More eclectic flavors include cranberry, chocolate chip sun-dried tomato, french toast, Tux (half plain, half-pumpernickel) and rainbow, a plain bagel with bright, bold primary and secondary colors.
The cream cheeses are just as varied: jalapeno, strawberry, honey almond, cranberry walnut, and sweeter options like chocolate chip and Rocky Road.
The top sellers are the Lox bagel, served with nova salmon, capers, onions, tomatoes and your choice of cream cheese and bagel; and the Willie Dean, a breakfast sandwich with cheese, eggs, bacon, sausage, and a potato patty.
Whether people want the classic or unconventional flavors, they keep coming back. WillieDean Bagels sells out nearly every day, Lopez said.
“We’ve gotten a lot of support from a lot of people,” Lopez said. “We’re just happy to be here to be part of the community as well.”
Lopez said during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, WillieDean Bagels closed for a month, and the shop took a financial hit. WillieDean Bagels, up until recently, was serving bagels to-go only, in an effort to follow COVID-19 guidelines. Now, a few tables and chairs are available for people who want to eat inside. Lately, though, business is good, Lopez said.
Masks are still required inside WillieDean Bagels, regardless of Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s alleviating of the statewide mask mandate.
“We want customers, when they come here, to feel comfortable, and that they know that we are still practicing safety,” Lopez said.
In the future, Lopez is planning to sell baked goods with a portion of the proceeds going towards local organizations. For example, a turtle-shaped cookie for Sea Turtle Inc.
WillieDean Bagels is open Tuesday to Sunday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. at 1817 Padre Blvd on South Padre Island. Give them a call at (956) 433-5119.