Bodo's sold: Three managers buy the bagel biz

After 20 years at the helm of Bodo's, the legendary bagelry that has become a Charlottesville institution, owner Brian Fox is calling it quits.

“That’s enough,” says Fox, a once notorious workaholic/perfectionist whose penchant for offering low-cost meals was topped only by fascination with how long it took him to open each of this three venues– one of which took a decade.

“Your drive disappears when your responsibilities diminish, at least for me,” says Fox, 61, who says he has backed away from daily operation of the stores over the last few years.

In 1986, Fox hung his famous "bagels are coming" sign on a former Roy Rogers fast-food joint on Emmet Street. Three years later, the first Bodo's opened.

Fox stopped by the Hook June 5 to reveal his news (if not the sales price).

“I want to have more time to read and travel and be relatively worry-free," he says. "I had tremendous ambition to take care of my family, and I’ve done that. The business has worked very hard and well over the years, and I for it.”

Given his attachment to the business, it’s not hard to see why Fox chose a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory method of passing on his bagel empire. Although the business didn’t go to a golden-ticket holder unwrapping his pastrami on sesame, it did go to people who share Fox’s vision: his three general managers.

“They’re like me,” Fox says, “in that they're not satisfied with the status quo. You have to watch out for entropy; you have to be constantly improving to make things work.”

The buyers are John Kokola, who handles the Corner location; Scott Smith, the Preston Avenue majordomo; and Connie Jenson, who runs the Emmet Street store.

“It hasn’t totally sunk in,” laughs Jenson, 51, who began working at Bodo's 13 years ago. “I’ve caught myself wondering, 'Is this real?'”

Jenson concedes that Fox did “sit on this decision” for quite a while, but she has nothing but praise for her former boss.

“He’s the smartest businessman I’ve ever known,” she says. “And he’s been such a compassionate boss. I feel even more responsibility to keep Bodo's going like it has been.”

Smith, 36, also finds it hard to believe where he’s found himself. As an English grad student teaching Shakespeare when he took a part-time job at Bodo's almost eight years ago, he never imagined he’d own a business.

“I thought I’d do it for a year, maybe two, and then get a teaching job,” he says. “For years, nothing along the lines of ownership ever crossed my mind. I just liked the social vibe at Bodo's. It was so positive. But over time it began to look like a real possibility.”

Kokola, also 36, left two full-time jobs at franchise restaurants to work at Bodo's 14 years ago, and says it was a classified ad that caught his attention. “Where I [previously] worked, everyone just sat around reading the newspaper," he says. "When I saw Brian’s ad in the paper, I was struck by its human aspect, by the way it said they were looking for these kinds of people, with these specific qualities.”

Fox says he’ll remain available for consulting with the three GMs and will continue to own the real estate at the Emmet and Preston locations. The Corner store is rented.

“I really enjoy that Bodo's is an important part of people’s lives,” says Fox. “There’s a lot of chaos in life, and one of the reasons I think Bodo's has been so popular is that it's so familiar. It’s home to people."

This story is a part of the Waiting for Bodo special.
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