Updated: Jun 29, 2020
Carb lovers beware! Once you try a bagel from The Cleveland Bagel Company, you will be sold and addicted to the doughy texture and distinctive crunch. This Cleveland owned and operated business has evolved from a home kitchen, to shared commercial space, to Cleveland flea and debuted on the TV show “Cleveland Hustles”. From that point, they’ve had somewhat of a metaphoric rise with two locations (and possibly a third), wholesale bagel distribution and now moving into the frozen bagel space. It’s not hard to see why…... once locals tasted this delectable treat, they’ve consistently sold out and had to move to bigger and bigger spaces to accommodate the demand.
But back to the beginning. Two unlikely men Geoff Hardman and Dan Herbst were longtime friends and complete strangers to baking. But the idea started percolating when the pair became frustrated by the lack of quality bagels from locally sourced vendors to bring to business meetings. Since the duo had no professional baking experience, they spent the next six to twelve months perfecting the recipe as well as the shape and color. Plus a whole lot of reading and researching online to find the best methods. And the effort paid off. They like to say “they stuck with it and did it right”.
They started the company making bagels in a 4-quart mixer in their apartment kitchen and borrowed refrigerator space from a neighbor as they expanded. Dan was the man mixing the bagel dough and Geoff handled the schmear. They creatively made the cramped space work by stacking trays and trays of bagels with mini ice cream cones between them since they didn’t have racks. Sadly there are no pictures as fun memorabilia to share! But it gives you a sense of appreciation of the growing pains and quick fixes to make it work. The next steps were moving to the Ohio City Pasta kitchen space where they had access to a bigger kitchen and bigger mixers.
And the rest is sort of bagel history. The Cleveland Bagel company is now a well known Cleveland destination with a philosophy of hand rolling each bagel and doing things the right way. That means they pay employees fairly by going well above the minimum wage and making sure in times of COVID-19 fears, they consider their employees health first. That means distancing everyone properly with limited staff and limited output. Which means a hit for the bottom line but fits squarely into their mentality of doing the right thing. Dan and Geoff understand the importance of quality staff and know without a good staff, you have a failed business.
Some other things to know about this fan favorite…….they do sell out. Like a lot. If you ever wondered why, just know they have to retard the dough 2-3 days ahead of selling the bagels so that means they have to guess what their sales will be 2-3 days in advance with little margin for error. But on the good side, they know pretty well by now what their normal days look like. After all, they have people stop in every single day before work for their daily fix.
They also stick to the basics. The bagel types you see now will be the bagels types in the future because they want to deliver the most quality product to their customers. They want to focus on a few things and make sure they are the best things they can possibly deliver. No gimmicks and no subpar ingredients.
Lastly, let’s talk schmear and breakfast sandwiches. Due to the COVID-19 cooking environment and the safety of their employees, this bagel shop has put a hold on the homemade breakfast sandwiches until today, June 24th. The schmears are a mix of regular flavors as well as the seasonal options to keep things fresh. They have a rotation of 7 schmears that include plain, brie honey walnut (my favorite!), cheddar chive, chorizo chipotle, thyme blackpepper horseradish, seasonal and vegan. Their schmears were inspired by family recipes as well as favorite dishes they’ve had while eating out. Plus their employees have a hand in offering up suggestions that often end up in a seasonal schmear creation. I can’t think of a better way to involve your workers than letting them creatively experiment with the product and feel an ownership to what’s headed out the door.
I hope you are as inspired by what this local duo is doing in Cleveland as I am and head out this weekend to pick up a dozen or two. You won’t regret it!
For hours and locations please visit their website.