Mmm, bagels...
June 21, 2009 11:00 AM   Subscribe

Thinking of opening up a bagel store in a town nearby where there are no bagel stores. Looking for tips, suggestions, advice, and name ideas!

(First off, if you've read my previous questions, you know I'm a bit conflicted because in the past year I have graduated college, gotten two part time office jobs, and was thinking about becoming an english teacher. Sorry.)

Anyway. My father and I are pondering going into the bagel business. Yay! Before we decided whether or not this is a good idea, I am going to be getting some early morning work at a bagel shop, in order to figure out if I like it, what it really entails, and if it is feasibly for us to do. I'm also working on a business plan.

I've read a few accounts of the bagel business (like the self-proclaimed bagel guru's), and have a general idea of how it works.

If we do it, we will be using the kettling method, and we will be making them from scratch, not a starter.

And we'd be doing it on Route 6, in Carmel, NY, and the location is a good one - lots of parking, close to I-84, no other shops around, etc.

So, have you worked in, run, or owned a bagel shop?

What does your favorite bagel shop have or do that is different and awesome?

Do you have a fabulous bagel recipe?

Any other random bagel thoughts or recommendations?

And, bet of all, what clever/fun/interesting/descriptive names can you suggest? (or boring and standard, that works too!)
posted by firei to Work & Money (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I suggest that you make fragels. That is a special treat, right there.
posted by pinky at 11:05 AM on June 21, 2009

Make sure you can make a killer sausage (or bacon), egg and cheese. With salt, pepper and ketchup, on an everything. Actually, make it two.

Names: yeesh, I dunno, Hole in the Wall; Wheatnut; Joebox, if you have good coffee. None of those are good or helpful - sorry.
posted by taliaferro at 11:14 AM on June 21, 2009

Bagel stores used to be everywhere, now they are a lot more scarce. You might want to do a little research into the bagel chain stores and see if you can talk to someone who can tell you why so many bagel places didn't make it.

Not trying to discourage you; a great bagel shop can write its own ticket. But there are an awful lot of bagel store carcasses on the road to perdition.
posted by Aquaman at 11:42 AM on June 21, 2009

We studied the bagel industry in law school because our transactional class had the paperwork from a private equity buyout. Coincidentally, twenty years before, I had worked in the same bagel shop.

My theory on what Aquaman was getting to: Bagel stores had an enormous drop-off in sales with the advent of the no carb diet. It didn't affect donut sales because donut eaters didn't care about the carbs, but the more health conscious bagel eater moved on to other products. Thinking about the contents of malls, it doesn't seem to me that this has changed in the 3-4 years since I looked at this.

The people I worked for as a kid had a store front retail and a frozen (and now not frozen, not sure what they figured out to keep bagels fresher longer) store-brand bagel business. They ended up closing the retail because (well my theory anyway) it wasn't worth the time.

So from that experience, my advice is, when writing your business plan, to put together a business that can be branded (whether to the public or btob) then sold when you are done. In they bagel store case, the frozen bagel to grocery store business was sellable at the end, the store-front, not so much.

And as far as actual production, as a New Yorker, I can't eat a New Jersey bagel. My only theory is "the water", since you are in Carmel, it looks like we get the same water, so that shouldn't be a problem.

Good luck
posted by rakish_yet_centered at 12:24 PM on June 21, 2009

I've worked years in a bagel shop, (cashier, baker, shift manager, etc.. but far from any sort of high position making these types of decisions).

I suppose one thing to think about is what type of people will be coming in, is it to eat, or to take away, etc... Most bagel shops prepare meals or sandwhiches which from what I noticed seemed to probably have a huge influence on the profits. Buying plain bagels isn't too expensive, whereas you can really charge a lot for a sandwhich (and some of them, when you break it down, really up the costs... for example a simple bagel might cost 50 or 75 cents, but as soon as you've got a couple slices of veggies which hardly cost anything, your "sandwhich" is valued at a couple dollars). Similarly, in most bagel shops a bagel with cream cheese costs over $2, yet if two or more people are going to order that...its cheaper for them to just buy a tub of plain cream cheese (which you'll want to offer for people going to gatherings anyway) and put it on themselves.
For this reason you might want to encourage people staying in your shop to eat, or you preparing the food rather than them doing it themselves at home.

A good coffee would be really important, definitely trying to find some signature combinations or sandwhiches..

I'm not sure how much of a time/person addition this would require, but when I baked I often started at 5am for a 7am opening... and we didn't make the dough from scratch.

I hope you like it and your idea works. Definitely get a job or two in the meantime to scope out the situation. I really loved working with bagels and this question is making me feel nastalgic- its been a year since i've seen a bagel :(.
posted by nzydarkxj at 12:41 PM on June 21, 2009

I just know that the bagels from Patchogue, NY taste like Heaven. I've never had a better one. If you were going to apprentice, I'd try down there. Mind you, this was in my youth. But I think LI would be a good place to learn to make bagels.
posted by sully75 at 1:06 PM on June 21, 2009

Location, location, location - but in the sense that make sure your morning customer (if that's going to be the bulk of it) doesn't have to cross traffic lanes to get into your shop. In order words, locate on the side of the street heading towards most folks' workplaces to make it easy for them to get in and get out, particularly so if you're going to be on a street with multiple lanes in each direction. If you're locating in a primarily pedestrian area, same logic: locate on the side of the street that goes with the majority of the people flow at the time of day when your sales will be highest.
posted by webhund at 1:30 PM on June 21, 2009

How about a different approach -- a bagel cart or kiosk in front of some sort of business square somewhere. That way you have the marginal bagel market without the overhead and you're right there near busy customers in the right demographic. Stick some newspapers on there and offer high-quality coffee and you've got a killer stand.
posted by crapmatic at 1:30 PM on June 21, 2009

(and for god sakes, be sure you carry real cream, not just half + half or faux creamer)
posted by crapmatic at 1:31 PM on June 21, 2009

Learn how to make Montreal style bagels, possibly from these folks. You'd make Canadians abroad very happy, and you can make yourself into a nice French cafe.
posted by crazycanuck at 1:51 PM on June 21, 2009

nthing Montreal style bagels.
posted by Beardman at 2:05 PM on June 21, 2009

I'm a barista at an independent coffee shop, and we get our bagels delivered from a small semi-local business. Some observations:
  • people do notice, and appreciate, freshness
  • you'll have to carry the 'boring' everyday flavours, but rotating special flavours are often quite popular, and keep your menu interesting
  • same goes for cream cheese/spreads/toppings— having some sweet and some savory satisfies most cravings
  • have a proper dill lox/scallion/caper bagel if you can
  • regardless of how your bagels are made, and how good they are, regional/cultural biases in bagel customers mean some folks will have 'helpful suggestions' about how to make your bagels better
  • if you have a local coffee roaster nearby, set up an arrangement to brew their coffee (if not also supply them with bagels). There's lots of crossover between the bagel and coffee customers.

    …and how do you feel about "Hole Foods"?

  • posted by a halcyon day at 2:09 PM on June 21, 2009

    I personally am much more inclined to buy bagels in bulk (a dozen or more) from a store that primarily sells bagels and does only a little bit of the coffee shop stuff or none at all. But that depends if a cafe is what you want to do, rather than a "bagel shop."

    Another personal preference thing: I used to go out of my way to get to a store because they had cheese bagels that were really really good, and I met people there who also went there just to get those cheese bagels (they had plenty of other baked goods). And then I guess because of profit margins, they didn't have cheese bagels anymore. I rarely get bagels there anymore. I would have paid extra for those cheese bagels, which I did have to do at some other stores. Too bad.
    posted by bread-eater at 2:33 PM on June 21, 2009

    Back in the 90s, I was a baker at the 'factory' for Wolfe's Bagels in New Mexico. Actually looking now it seems they have gotten bigger, or at least way more web-savvy. Steam proofed, not boiled. And Kosher. NM Green Chile is awesome. If you get big, your line workers will be random punks with high turnover. Document for stupid. If you have a store front, cops and fire-fighters get free bagels, charge for extra stuff, but give big discount if it's legal. Nothing like 3 cop cars and a firetruck outside for business. Workers take home all the bagels they want, they're like 3 cents a piece and you may be feeding them.

    Feel free to me-mail me if you like, I worked 3 years in a bagel factory.
    posted by zengargoyle at 2:35 PM on June 21, 2009

    it would also be good to have some vegetarian/vegan options, in bagels and toppings. Toffutti makes a great cream cheese that also has less calories than regular cream cheese.
    posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:37 PM on June 21, 2009

    Just a heads up, cost of flour has gone up dramatically in the past few years. I used to get a half dozen for two bucks and now it costs four or more. The bagel shops where I come from, who made them from scratch, mostly absorbed the costs to not alienate customers.
    posted by furtive at 3:11 PM on June 21, 2009

    How about a different approach -- a bagel cart or kiosk in front of some sort of business square somewhere.

    Along that same line of thinking - a local independent coffee shop near me added to their business by opening a coffee and breakfast munchie stand inside the mass-transit rail station in town. That turned out to be such a good deal for them that they closed their shop and now just do the morning rush at the train station. They rented a corner of the waiting area and expanded the simple kiosk/cart into something a little more permanent.
    posted by SuperSquirrel at 3:41 PM on June 21, 2009

    I'll preface my comment with an admission that New York bagels are 100 times better than anything in New England, but since NE is where I've lived for the past five years....

    Bagel Gourmet in Providence is awesome. It's created its own niche, with the traditional bagels/cream cheese/lox as well as bagel sandwiches for breakfast and lunch and Mexican food. They have good coffee and seem to do a good business with both Brown students and the East Side community. I guess what I'm saying is that I agree with others that successful shops find a non-bagel hook to broaden their appeal. And coffee is key, as it's a high margin, complementary good.
    posted by HumuloneRanger at 4:55 PM on June 21, 2009

    Do you have your final recipe down? Starting down the path of a busines model without that might be a little iffy. It's better to have a good recipe with no storefront than a storefront without a good recipe.

    Some things to remember:

    1. Never deviate on flour. Switching brands of flour will break your recipe. Protein variances can turn a recipe that's normally delicious and amazing into either boiled cake or a rock.

    2. Lye, malt, and baking soda all yield different results, and you need to find out which works best for you.

    3. It is insanely hard to get bagels that have any taste without a sponge, starter, or a day of sitting in a fridge. At least, it is for me.

    4. The humidity levels that you once found uncomfortable are about to become commonplace.

    You say you'll not be using a starter (and I assume you mean sponge) but what about fermentation? No starter + no sponge + no fermentation = please don't.

    The other thing I can advise is to HAVE. GOOD. COFFEE. Find a local roaster. Get ready to drink a lot of coffee, because this is important. Either that, or hire a trained barista and put them in charge of the coffee part. Yes, it really is important. No one likes bad coffee.

    Otherwise, cream cheese is insanely flexible. You can add almost anything to it and people will want it on a bagel. Have some lox on hand. Sprouts go well with cream cheese, and you don't necessarily have to buy them, as the grow like wildfire. That's a marketing opportunity right there.

    Oh, and those bigass viking or kitchenaid mixers? They're pretty badass. You need one.
    posted by onedarkride at 4:05 AM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

    Make a rock salt bagel, and a densely poppied bagel, and a bialy, much beloved trad varieties that some places simply don't bother with.
    posted by Scram at 5:37 AM on June 22, 2009

    Why go in blindly? The Better Bagel in Mountain View, CA (as an example), has been in business something like 15 years, and the last time I was in a couple years ago, they were still fairly busy (although the storefront needs some attention, I think). The Cape Cod Bagel Company has been in business since I've started dating Mrs. Plinth - more than a decade ago. I'm not holding these up as shining beacons of bageldom - just that they have survived the test of time. Make a list of shops that aren't your competitors and find out why and how they've stayed in business.
    posted by plinth at 5:52 AM on June 22, 2009

    It sounds like you're going about this slowly, which is a good thing.

    If you're serious about this and you have the time, inclination and money, start going to auctions to get your equipment. Restaurants go out of business all the time. Let someone else pay for the brand spanking new cash register/display case/refrigerator/etc. These things often go for a song at auctions.

    Consider renting a storage unit in the event you can't store the items you buy. And when it comes to renting trucks, we had the best luck with Penske. Cheaper rates and lots of trucks have hydraulic lifts.
    posted by Atom12 at 5:57 AM on June 22, 2009

    Thanks everyone! More suggestions are good, but this is great so far, I appreciate it. :) I will let you know what happens...
    posted by firei at 1:10 PM on June 22, 2009

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