KENT ISLAND, Md. – Andrew DePaola quietly pulls into a parking lot spot just before 6 a.m.
The sun has barely risen, casting a soft, golden glow over the top of the modest strip mall. In the center is DePaola's Bagel & Brunch, nestled between a Dollar General and Kent Island Dentistry.
Andrew is greeted warmly upon entering, the energy inside matching the sunrise out.
Here, he isn't known as the Vikings long snapper. He's simply Andrew – and that's exactly the way he wants it.
"I want people to know me as Andrew, the Kent Island resident who has a bagel shop. Not the football player who started a bagel shop because he can," he says later, sitting at the dining room table in his Kent Island home.
For those who do know Andrew's current occupation, they might pick up on the small No. 42, his jersey number, printed on the outside sleeves of the DePaola's Bagel & Brunch T-shirts worn by employees.
Even then, Andrew offers a good-natured eyeroll at his parents, Andy and Janet, partners in the business who run the daily goings on of the shop, and Store Manager Kim Berg.
"I see you got numbers added to the shirts," he laughs.
Andrew's never been the type to make things about him. It's just not who he is.
"I had some snapshots done of him. They're back in the office and, well, after you guys leave, he's gonna take them down," Andy tells the trio of Vikings Entertainment Network coworkers. "He just doesn't like that. And that's cool. I mean, it's no big deal. He's a regular guy here.
"It's really neat to see him in action with everybody else," Andy adds. "He treats everybody the way he wants to be treated. He'll treat the one doing the dishes just the same as the one managing the store."
Though Berg didn't know Andrew prior to being hired, she quickly came to appreciate his easygoing demeanor and realized he's never one to seek the spotlight.
"He's just a great person to work for. Very family oriented. He cares about your family, always compassionate. Just an all-around great guy," Berg said. "I admire him. You wouldn't know he played for the NFL, though, because he doesn't flaunt it. And we don't make a deal of it here, either, because we want him to be comfortable when he's home. All the employees know, and they feel the same way. They love when he comes in. It's like, everybody brightens up a little bit when we see Andrew come in the door on breaks or whatever."
View photos from Viking LS Andrew DePaola's family restaurant DePaola's Bagel and Brunch in Maryland.
Giving it Everything
Ask anyone who's been a part of Andrew's life over the years, and they'll always use similar words to describe him: down-to-earth, genuine, kind-hearted, soft-spoken.
The latter hasn't always been the case, though.
Andrew peppered his parents with questions as a child, showing an early curiosity and constant motor.
"He would never give up asking and inquiring about things," Janet said. "And he was a very active child. To the point where I said to my husband when he was 3, 'We need to find something for him to do. We need to get out some of this energy.' "
Janet waited until the following year before seeking out a karate class through the local rec program. The class didn't take students as young as 4, but Janet was persistent.
"I told the instructor, 'Look, if you will take him on, I'll be here every class. You don't have to babysit him. I will be here.' And he took him on," Janet smiled, still proud. "It was the best thing we ever did. That class gave him an activity, and it taught him about structure.
"As he was growing up, he became very calm and quiet, in his own way," she added. "Though he still asked a lot of questions. But then it was, 'Andrew, I don't know. You're much smarter than me.' But he kind of mellowed out and changed."
Andrew's hyperactivity slowed, but his determination and passion for competition never dulled.
He did not pursue karate but instead fell in love with football, playing quarterback at Hereford High School (Parkton, Maryland) and going on to Rutgers University as a walk-on. Andrew served as the team's third-string quarterback for two seasons, then became the holder for field goals. He started his fourth season with Rutgers as a wide receiver but became the team's long snapper when the starter sustained an injury.
Andrew played a fifth season, serving as Rutgers starting long snapper, but went undrafted following his collegiate career.
Giving up his NFL dream simply wasn't an option for Andrew, though.
For the next year, he trained diligently for the football field while working evening hours at Best Buy and at his family's pub.
"That didn't quite work out," Andy quipped. "Somebody wanted a drink, and Andrew would just overdo it with vodka. The customers loved him, and his tips were good, but my bottom line didn't turn out too well.
"He just kept going after his dream," Andy added. "There was never really a Plan B. It was, 'Just keep going.' We supported him the whole time, and it was really neat to watch the whole process – and then where he's at now."
Janet recalled an August day in 2012, a year after Andrew had finished at Rutgers and a few weeks after he'd gotten an invite to Buccaneers training camp.
Janet and Andy were helping one of their other sons relocate to Virginia when Andy was alerted by a call.
"I got to the van, and my husband said, 'Andrew's on the phone.' Of course it's the end of August, so you're [worried about news he'd gotten cut]," Janet said. "So I got on the phone and Andrew says, 'Looks like you're gonna have to buy a Bucs jersey.'
"I was bawling. I just gave the phone back to Andy. I couldn't do anything else," she continued. "As a parent, you feel that struggle so deep, and you can't give it to them. To get that call was incredible."
Andrew spent four seasons with the Bucs, then played for the Bears (2017) and Raiders (2018). A torn ACL unfortunately sidelined him for the majority of that 2018 campaign, though, and he was released by the Panthers during final roster cuts prior to the 2019 season.
It was during that time he developed the idea for launching a bagel shop.
"We moved back to Maryland, I really started to scout out locations, I really started to draw things up, put things on paper – a business plan, a vision for what I wanted and how I saw it going," Andrew explained.
During the early part of 2020, things started really coming together. The location was decided, extensive bagel research was conducted, the interior was designed and employees were hired.
Andrew is grateful for and humbled by the work his parents do daily for the shop, commuting over an hour each way.
"My dad does such back-breaking work for both businesses. He's up so early to get down here in time to start the bagels and get the bagels out of the fridge, and then he'll go and do stuff at the bar and restaurant, and then he'll go home to catch three or four hours of sleep just to do it all over again," Andrew said. "So we're gonna have to figure out a solution to that so he sticks around longer. But the amount of effort and enthusiasm they've put into this place has just been amazing to see, and it's just made it all the worthwhile."
Berg was hired as manager early on, and she said it's been a rewarding journey.
"Just to see how it's progressed from when we started, I mean, we've learned a lot of things," Berg said. "And it really has grown. We've got great employees, and that's the important thing. They're the ones who make it go."
Andrew expressed similar sentiments about the staff that's grown into a family.
"Our employees are patrons of the town; they're people who live here," he said. "So if someone works behind the counter, they're gonna know three, four, five, 10 people who come through the door every day. You want that social interaction. You want that conversation between employee and customer."
Kent Island is a quaint town about a 45-minute drive from downtown Baltimore, the final five miles of the trip over the Memorial Bay Bridge. Slender and silvery, the structure stretches across Chesapeake Bay – where drivers can take in a scenic view of stark-white sailboats against blue horizon and tangled osprey nests assembled atop channel markers.
Souvenir shops and waterfront restaurants are painted shades of marine blue, teal, yellow and coral, pops of color that perfectly fit the beachy feel. Locals order orange- and lemon-crush cocktails while patio fans work against the thick, hovering humidity. They know the best places to visit for crab dip and cream-of-crab soup, crab cake platters and snow crab sandwiches.
And now, there's also a bagel shop.
"There wasn't anything like this here," Andrew said. "And our shop is more focused on quality food over really fast food, which was one of my core beliefs and principles of the business. I wanted to do good, handmade food versus just food that gets out the door quickly. Couple that with this area, where people are really proud of where they live … it does kind of have an old-school feeling where people will just be walking around, they want to talk with their neighbors, they want to make sure people are doing OK. That social interaction is big around here.
"I just hoped that they would kind of accept it and make it part of their own, and they really have. They've made it into their little slice of paradise for breakfast," Andrew added.
Since its grand opening on January 1, customers have been flocking to the breakfast nook.
They order bagels of just about any flavor – cheddar jalapeno, everything, cinnamon raisin, cranberry, poppyseed, plain, asiago, French toast and, of course, Old Bay seasoned – as well as ample options for sandwich combos and made-fresh chicken or shrimp salad.
Regulars saddle up to the breakfast bar to drink their morning coffee and page through that day's newspaper.
"What keeps me coming besides the great bagels? Just the open air, the friendliness. The people are great. They've done a tremendous job here," said Kirk, who regularly orders an everything bagel, double-toasted, with butter and sometimes an egg.
"I've been eating bagels forever," he added. "There was a great bagel shop in Annapolis, and there used to be a great one downtown, but I moved away – to find this spot is amazing. It's the best bagel I've ever had. They just know how to do it right."
The DePaolas don't take process lightly. After all, remember how young Andrew didn't stop asking questions? He approached the bagel business the same way.
"There's a lot of little things that I didn't realize when I went into it. A lot of little nuances," Andrew noted. "When I went up to New York and New Jersey and watched how they do the bagels up there, how they boil them and then bake them, and you have to let them sit for at least 24 hours after you form the dough – I just think that whole process is really interesting and unique.
"I really enjoy making food and the amount of time that goes in, because it's kind of like an art form. To me, it's not really something that can be rushed," he added. "There is science behind it, so all the reactions that have to take place … when you introduce heat or room temperature or cold … I'm just kind of nerdy in that respect."
It's certainly paid off, as DePaola's Bagels & Brunch has been thriving … right along with Andrew's football career.
Andrew was named to his first Pro Bowl just 12 days after the bagel shop opened. Three months later, he re-signed with the Vikings to remain in Purple — and in the state that's become a second home to him, his wife Amy and their three kids, Grace, Drew and Olivia.
At just 3 months old, Olivia doesn't quite grasp her dad's job in the NFL just yet. But Grace and Drew love wearing their Vikings apparel, trying on Andrew's helmet after training camp practice and chattering about football. The toddlers start out most mornings – in Minnesota and Maryland alike – by singing the Vikings fight song and watching Viktor the Viking videos on YouTube.
Grace and Drew are just as proud of Daddy back in Kent Island, where they leap at any opportunity to ride with him to the bagel shop and sprint to the back office to visit "Poppy and Gam."
"That's everything for me. That's kind of what I've always wanted with a business," Andrew said. "It's nice for us to be able to go in there with the kids. I love them knowing that it's ours, and it's a part of what we're going to be doing someday.
"Our manager, Kim, she'll give the kids a hug and say hi to them, and so will some of our other employees who have been there a little bit longer," he added. "I just think a family atmosphere at work helps keep everyone a little bit easier going, a little bit lighter, and I just want it to be somewhere people want to come and go to work."
One egg-and-cheese-on-plain bagel for Grace, please. And a cinnamon toast bagel, unsliced, for 2-year-old Drew.
It's a little harder for Andrew to nail down his favorite item.
"My go-to order for breakfast is sausage, egg and cheese on an everything bagel," he said. "But after that, it's just, what are you in the mood for? Pretty much everything we have on the menu is made by hand, from scratch. Most of the recipes are my dad's, so a lot of it is food I grew up on. I just love it all."
Nearly 1,200 miles separate DePaola's Bagels & Brunch from the Vikings headquarters at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center. And yet there might not be bigger supporters of the bagel shop than Andrew's teammates – almost all of whom have yet to visit in-person.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been known to regularly wear the DePaola's Bagels & Brunch T-shirt, which even made a cameo under Cousins' red practice jersey in Netflix's recent Quarterback docuseries. He even made a point to promo the Maryland hot spot from the podium during an earlier press conference.
Cousins has found the endeavor itself easy to support – and Andrew as a teammate even more so.
"I have a deep appreciation for entrepreneurs and small business – the risk it takes, the capital it takes, the work it takes. So the fact that he did it, I'm really impressed with," Cousins said. "I want to see him succeed. I think it can be a great opportunity for him when he's done playing football, too, so that he can have an engine to support his family but also serving the community. I just really want to see it succeed.
"He gave us free T-shirts – what's not to like about that?" Cousins added with a smile. "And there just aren't a lot of teammates starting a small business in their hometown, so anybody who does, if you give me a T-shirt, I'm not only going to wear the shirt, I'm going to champion your cause."
Kicker Greg Joseph echoed Cousins' thoughts.
"It's been so much fun to see the guys get behind it, rockin' the shirts. We even wore them to a game last year," Joseph said. "It's super cool to see the whole team get behind one guy who's starting up a business, doing it right and doing it at home."
Earlier this spring, Joseph detoured to the bagel shop to show his support after spending time in Washington, D.C. Though he unfortunately arrived outside of operating hours, the DePaolas saved some bagels for Joseph, who received a full tour from Andrew and Grace.
"I had to go and see the actual brick-and-mortar building and everything him and his family had been working on," Joseph said. "I enjoy myself a good breakfast bagel, so to try some of his was great. And to see everything he and his family have been working so hard for come to fruition, come to life, was exciting."
Andrew called the support "monumental" as he's taken on this new adventure.
"That goes back to the identity of our team. The people that [General Manager] Kwesi [Adofo-Mensah] and K.O. (Head Coach Kevin O'Connell) have brought along. They're not just great football players; they're great people," Andrew said. "For them to be able to support a teammate – some of them might even not know me that well, some of the new guys, and they're still rockin' the shirt, loving it, giving me praise. That's been cool. It's been really awesome."
As Andrew enters his eighth accrued NFL season, his focus is 100 percent on helping the Vikings win as many games as possible in their pursuit of the postseason.
But on breaks and in the offseason, don't be surprised when Andrew's vehicle is one of the first in the quiet parking lot in Kent Island, Maryland, before the sun comes up.
"I want not just customers but employees to know that this is real to me," Andrew said. "When football – hopefully it ends years from now – but when that does end, because it ends for everybody, I want something I can jump right into.
"I am heavily invested in this community," he said. "I don't want to be an absentee business owner. I want to be involved. I want the Andrew DePaola handprint on it."