Life comes full circle for Ottawa Bagelshop and Deli owner Liliana Piazza

Wellington West favourite celebrates 40 years this weekend with 1984 prices

Liliana Piazza
Liliana Piazza, owner of the Ottawa Bagelshop and Deli located at 1321 Wellington St. W. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Back when Ottawa Bagelshop and Deli owner Liliana Piazza was performing opera for a living, she honed her vocal craft during rehearsals.

These days, there’s no luxury of practice, practice, practice before opening her doors to customers. It’s showtime seven days a week.

“The hardest part of being a small business owner is that you have to perform and rehearse at the same time,” she said in an interview to discuss the Bagelshop’s 40 years of being a tasty fixture in one of the city’s coolest urban neighbourhoods, Wellington West. “You can’t just pretend to run your store.  

OBJ360 (Sponsored)

“You have to learn on the go.”

Ottawa Bagelshop and Deli was founded by Piazza’s Sicilian-born father Vince in 1984. Not only did the former school teacher pioneer the introduction of Montreal-style bagels to Ottawa, but he was the first in the province to sell bagels baked in wood-fired ovens. He and his wife Judy brought his brother-in-law’s famous Montreal St-Viateur bagel formula to the capital.

Today, the store makes nine different kinds of bagels, including sourdough. Its kitchen specializes in bagel sandwiches, or “sammies.” Catering services are also available.

Vince ran the Bagelshop until 2019. That’s when Piazza officially took over in accordance with their succession plan. 

“We sort of all agreed as a family that a world without the bagel shop is a little bit of a sadder place, so we just wanted to keep it going,” said Piazza, who, having been born and raised in Ottawa, got her start in the business at age 12.

Vince Piazza at Ottawa Bagelshop and Deli in 1984.

This Saturday, Ottawa Bagelshop and Deli is inviting the public to help celebrate its milestone anniversary. Customers can purchase one dozen bagels at the 1984 price of $3.

Piazza takes great pride in the fact that the bagel shop and deli has been part of people’s lives for four decades.

It’s common for customers to feel nostalgic about the store, said Piazza. “Food is a time traveller,” she said of adult customers who share stories with her from when they were brought to the shop as kids, of being served by her father, of eating hot bagels fresh from the oven.

“Because we’ve been here for so long, it’s a place where neighbours come in and people who know each other,” she said. “We see children, newborn babies.”

Particularly popular with the little ones is the wood-burning oven. “They love watching the fire.”

That the business is part of the social and economic fabric of the neighbourhood was made clear during the early stages of the pandemic, when Piazza shut down her operation for three weeks because of potential health risks to her dad, to her employees and to herself. She was newly pregnant with her third child at the time.

Customers left notes outside the store, on the darkened, locked doors, saying “we miss you”, “be safe” and “come back soon,” said Piazza, who has saved all the messages. “It was really this beautifully heartwarming thing.”

In gratitude, Ottawa Bagelshop has been hosting free music and literary events at the store to showcase the talent of local artists. The door to listening is open to all.

“I just think it’s really, really important to our community, to our society, to come together, and music really is a pretty safe way of doing it,” said Piazza. “It’s the same with authors.”

Performers have included recent Juno Award-nominated singer and songwriter Steph La Rochelle. The writers’ series has featured readings by such Ottawa-area authors as Brett Popplewell and Kate Heartfield.

Ottawa Bagelshop and Deli, located at 1321 Wellington St. W., is celebrating its 40th anniversary by hosting a free celebration for the public this Saturday. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Piazza, 42, originally had her heart set on becoming a diva, as in a big-time female opera star. After graduating from Lisgar Collegiate Institute, she went off to study music. She did her undergrad at the University of Toronto, followed by her master’s in vocal performance at McGill. While in Montreal, she enjoyed working at her cousins’ legendary St-Viateur Bagel Shop. “I liked the business side of things. I liked learning about how to make money, how to choose products, how to staff, how to run a business from the inside.”

Piazza ended up in the United States performing as a mezzo-soprano. Her favourite opera is Verdi’s La traviata (famously referenced in classic rom-com Pretty Woman).

In 2012, Piazza decided to return to Ottawa to help her dad with the business. She and her Alabama-born husband Matthew Troncale were expecting their first child together. 

“I always wanted to raise my family in Ottawa,” explained Piazza, who found the demands of being a performer, particularly with the rigorous travelling and auditions, intense. 

“Growing up, I had a childhood where everyone was home for dinner and so forth, and I wanted to emulate that.”

As much as music has been a major influence in her life, so has food. She was raised in a household that was half-Italian, half-Jewish — two cultures that place heavy emphasis on yummy eats. “My mom is an exceptional cook.”

Piazza said she continues to prioritize high-quality food, selecting and offering exceptional products that are unique to Ottawa. 

She’s excited about her classically trained chef, Peter Saunders, who got his start at a Michelin-starred Dublin restaurant in his home country of Ireland. “He’s been a great addition,” she said. “He and I really connect on what we want food to taste like and the quality. He’s also a hospitality expert, so he knows a lot about service.”

Liliana Piazza (blue raincoat) with her older sister Ali during childhood.

Piazza employs a couple dozen employees. “It’s hard being a small business owner,” she said of the need to problem-solve, manage people and consistently perform at the highest level.

“But I feel very proud of the store we created, the team I have and our products. There’s a sort of mutual love between me and the community, the neighbourhood and the store. I know we are part of people’s traditions, people’s lives.

“I don’t know every customer who comes in, obviously, but I recognize the people who come in often and they know me and we have formed a small, tight-knit community within our little corner of the world, and I think that’s what we’re celebrating.

“I just really believe in the power of small business. It’s just better for our communities to have these main streets, to have this connection to where you spend your hard-earned dollar.”

Piazza is also mom to 11-year-old Oliver, nine-year-old Ophelia and three-year-old Dolly. Her husband is a finance assistant at the Bagelshop and, as a trained musician, teaches drums to students at Red Bird Live Music, as well.

As for the singing, Piazza doesn’t have much time for it these days, nor do her children encourage it. “They hate it when I sing,” she acknowledged. “I have a very big voice.”

This Saturday’s celebration will include face painting, starting at 10 a.m., and an outdoor street party. There will be a raffle and mini bagel sandwiches on sale, with proceeds going to Children’s Wish Foundation.

Of course there will be music. For Piazza, it wouldn’t be a true celebration without food and music.

Get our email newsletters

Get up-to-date news about the companies, people and issues that impact businesses in Ottawa and beyond.

By signing up you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. You may unsubscribe at any time.