Hey, Philadelphia. Better crank up the production of cream cheese.
There are already plenty of bagel bakeries to go around, and more are on the way to the Philly scene.
Here are some of the bagel upstarts, including a couple who turned their idle time during the early days of the pandemic into a wholesale business, a bagel fan who started a home delivery service of New York bagels, two bakers with a cult following, and a James Beard-nominated pastry chef opening a bakery whose bagels will be made from house-milled flour:
Jacob Cohen, a Realtor, and his wife, Alexandra Cohen, an advertising salesperson, began baking bagels at home at the outset of the pandemic. When they posted about their hobby on a Northern Liberties neighborhood Facebook page, orders and donations flooded in. A pop-up at Urban Village Brewing in Northern Liberties brought in $1,200, which they donated to Project HOME.
Then the Cohens decided to go pro with wholesale, baking out of a shared commissary at Liberty Kitchen and selling their bagels and flavored schmears to the Rival Bros. coffee shop, Front Street Cafe in Fishtown, Steap and Grind in Fishtown, Riverwards Produce in Fishtown, and Kensington Community Food Coop. Now, they have large accounts: Di Bruno Bros. (originally on weekends but moving to daily delivery in December) and the delivery service app GoPuff (which starts Dec. 5).
The Cohens — he is 32, she 29 — also just moved Kismet into a larger facility at Maken Studios North in Kensington. Although they don’t plan to open a retail shop, they allow the public to pick up on Saturday at Tired Hands Fermentaria in Ardmore and on Sunday at a storefront at 1405 Frankford Ave. in Fishtown. Walk-ups are welcome.
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They’ve also kept up the charitable side. Besides Project HOME (their partner for November and December), they donate to Black Lives Matter Philly and the PPE Fund for Sanitation Workers organized by Terrill Haigler, a.k.a. Yafavtrashman.
And the name? Alexandra Panagos was 5 years old when she met 8-year-old Jacob Cohen in Margate through their grandmothers, friends since the 1960s. They lost touch for about 20 years.
Cohen moved back to Philadelphia from Brooklyn and ran into Panagos’ grandmother, who insisted that he reach out to her. Within weeks, they moved in together, and they were married a year later, in 2018.
Love, and the bagel, makes the world go ‘round.
New York Bagel Butler
On May 15, Josh Anker had a lightbulb moment. A recent Drexel University graduate shuttling between his parents’ home on Long Island and his Philadelphia apartment, where he was working remotely for a law firm, he took a hard look at the bag of bagels sitting on his counter.
(He’s one of those New Yorkers who turns up his nose at Philadelphia bagels, so he always brought them back with him.)
“Something kind of hit me,” said Anker, 24. “Why don’t I just start making this a business?” Other companies bring down New York bagels to shops. “But can people get their bagels literally out of the oven, opposed to two or three days later?”
By June 20, Anker had struck an arrangement with a never-identified Long Island bagel bakery and began waking at 3 a.m. to tool down the turnpike in his Infiniti sedan filled with bagels. Marketing himself on Instagram as the New York Bagel Butler, Anker delivers two days a week to a few dozen homes in the Center City area (because of the population density) and the Abington/Jenkintown sections of Montgomery County (because a good customer lives there). He said he later traded the Infiniti for a more efficient Honda CRV, and two months ago quit the law firm. “The weight of the bagel business was starting to pull on me,” he said, but he hopes to return someday, eventually becoming a lawyer specializing in the cannabis field.
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“Right now with the pandemic, the real origin was to feed people,” he said. “I know a business is there to make money, but I saw a lot of people [who are] hungry. That’s a huge aspect of my business, where every time we have deliveries, we have donations. … I think we’ve given away 2,000 bagels now since we’ve started.”
Anker takes orders up to 1 p.m. Tuesday for Thursday morning delivery, and till 1 p.m. Thursday for Saturday morning delivery; his zone is within seven miles of Center City (19102) and four miles around Willow Grove (19090). Bagels are priced at $13.50 for six and $24 a dozen; the price drops from there (three dozen, for example, are $64). There’s a $2.99 delivery fee for orders under $20.
And as for that “New York makes the only good bagels” claim: Some people insist it is the water that gives a New York bagel its puffy center and thin crust.
Philip Korshak, 53, armed with a Ph.D. in poetry, bounced around a bit in the food business, from Brooklyn to Texas to Minnesota and finally in 2018 to Philadelphia. The dough life chose him while he worked at Home Slice in Austin. By the time he and his wife, Kendra, settled in Bella Vista, he wanted to open a bagel shop.
“I fell in love with the neighborhood immediately,” he said, and learned that Danny DiGiampietro, a bit of a mad scientist in the bread/sandwich/pizza realm, was opening Angelo’s Pizza at Ninth and Fitzwater Streets. “I stalked him on the web for a hot minute,” Korshak said. “I thought, ‘Oh, this guy is out of his mind.’ I sent him an email and we started talking and within five minutes we realized we’re both out of our minds.”
Korshak began baking bagels out of Angelo’s on some mornings, turning the residency into pop-ups. The heavily seeded sourdough bagels have both a heft and puffiness.
In 2019, he signed a lease for a former bodega owned by Varallo Bros. bakery at 10th and Morris Streets, and he is nearing the finish line, having obtained a used Toastmaster three-deck electric oven from a culinary school in Pittsburgh. Not gas?
“If you’re going to plumb a building for a gas oven,” Korshak said. “It’s incredibly invasive. Secondarily, gas is proven to be nonrenewable energy, and I’m sort of obligated — and this is really one of the great weights of being a business owner — I’m obligated to make ethical decisions. And how nice is that.” He hopes to soft-open in late December and start officially in January 2021.
A friend of Brooklyn-born Alex Malamy moved to Appalachia and started baking bagels to cope with his homesickness. Malamy, working at the time at Mariposa Food Coop, decided to do the same thing in his West Philadelphia home kitchen four years ago.
“My first batch was amazing,” Malamy said. Encouraged by this result, he kept going, eventually making enough to share with neighbors. People threw enough money his way to subsidize his hobby.
Malamy, 36, dubs his operation an “underground bagel service,” fittingly because he started in a basement apartment before he moved production to Pitruco Pizza in University City. The plan was to open a shop in the Cedar Park/Clark Park/Spruce Hill sections of West Philadelphia. He vended at Clark Park Farmer’s Market and Lil’ Pop Shop, selling bagels and bagel sandwiches, before the pandemic put life on hold.
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His bagels are lavishly topped, dense on the inside, crunchy on the outside, with a distinctive swirl that shows where the dough was joined by hand. Every baker offers an everything bagel, but no one, locally anyway, makes a Frenchthing, a heady dose of sesame, fennel, lavender, thyme, and salt.
Right now, Malamy is doing research and development and doing the odd pop-up, which he advertises on Instagram and his website.
He said the name is “a riff on dough as well as a call to conservation with the long lost bird, environment, and culture in mind. Unlike the dodo, the bagel — also with roots in the Old World — has had a more successful trajectory, having achieved ubiquity.”
“Dodo Bagels celebrates heritage and Old World baking traditions and technique with a 21st-century embrace of high-quality local and organic ingredients, sustainable practices, and community engagement.”
Lost Bread Co.
Alex Bois’ baked goods, including bagels, got him on the James Beard Foundation’s short list of nominees a few years ago at High Street on Market. Bois later moved on to his own operation, Lost Bread Co., at 1313 N. Howard St. in Kensington with partner Avram Hornik. They expect to open a retail bakery in late December at 2218 Walnut St., introducing bagels to Lost Bread’s repertoire.
Bois said he planned to take an artisan’s approach to the bagels, milling his own flour and even making his own cream cheese from cream, whole milk, and goat’s milk from Lancaster County dairies.