Death by Bagels: Why new flavours are to die for!
When two young entrepreneurs venture into the coveted Montreal bagel market, their only recourse is to take it to the next level.
By: Jana Doiron – mtltimes.ca
Short of being a landmark, bagels and Montreal are synonymous. In fact, you can’t get anything like them anywhere else. Aficionados from in and outside the city are drawn to them. They’re even now being exported to places like the East Coast. So, what is the allure of the Montreal bagel? And how could anyone think of opening a bagel shop in Montreal’s competitive market?
Maybe you have to be young and to have grown up with bagels to even try. Yet when Jeremy Rotchtin and Jonathan Covens, both looking to start a business, met the idea seemed too delicious. “Who doesn’t want bagels? Who doesn’t want to jump on the bandwagon for something so Montreal?” exclaims Rotchtin. Yet Covens thought it might be “difficult where bagel shops have been established for 40, 50, or 60 years.” That being said, he “thought it was a great idea and ran with it.” So, they opened R.E.A.L. Bagel Décarie.
However, don’t mistake their enthusiasm for naïveté. They mean business. They started by training to make bagels for six months during which they learned “to respect how much it is an art,” says Rotchtin. This led them to re-evaluate their strengths and start putting together a great complimentary team. “You have to be excellent, like Alex [the head baker],” he continues. They also decided to diversify and offer a luxury lunch counter and catering service with the help of Cordon Bleu-trained Chef Daniel Maislin who offers everything from schnitzel to gourmet veggie burgers and an array of salads. Cherry, another team member, is also “a dynamo at catering,” beams Rotchtin. Even frozen dinners are offered for those on the run. It is with the notions of great bagels, a diverse menu, teamwork, and community involvement that these two men have built a successful business.
Community involvement for bagels, you might ask? Being on the border of Côte-St-Luc, Hampstead, and the not-too-far N.D.G. already surrounds the shop with a community; but, there is a larger involvement even bringing in people from further away. Of course, they offer the standard sesame and poppy seed bagels and also what-might-now be considered the standard pumpernickel and blueberry bagels; yet, for other flavours they are open to suggestions from their customers. There is even a Facebook page where daily lunch specials are posted and followers can suggest bagel flavours. “If it sounds edible, we’ll try it,” says Rotchtin, who already tried a poutine bagel for a radio challenge. As Covens says, they “wanted to revamp it, bring our own style to it and have a little fun with it at the same time.” So some new flavours have become regular fare, such as their “Everything and Everything Spicy” bagels, the scrumptious “Pizza” bagel and the to-die-for “White Chocolate Coconut” bagels. Customers might even order ahead of time to ensure their favourites are not completely sold-out. “We want this to be a place for everybody,” states Rotchtin. They even offer a sprinkle-cheese bagel and a double chocolate chip bagel which are popular with the young and not-so-young. There’s the strawberry-rhubarb bagel which is popular with the older crowd who can, if willing to admit it (or not), make use of the “10% good-looking discount,” Rotchtin smiles.
Rotchtin, now known in the area as one of the bagel guys, makes sure to support local community businesses, as does Covens. They stock their shelves with locally made beverages and cookies, and cross-market with other businesses.
They also have Toronto customers stopping for bagels before getting on the 401. No, not even Toronto’s bagels are as good. “Montreal bagels are the best bagels around: crunchy crust on the outside, softer on the inside,” Covens glows. So what is the secret? Both Rotchtin and head baker, Alex, have heard it’s everything from the water, the air, to the wood. Of course, there is a secret recipe; but, if you’re a baker or a scientist then you might be able to figure it out. However, getting back to Rotchtin’s words about it being an art is definitely a good starting place to unravel the mystery. Watching Alex work his craft is a privilege. “It’s about balance,” he says. Rolling looks simple, but it takes practice to remove the necessary amount of air from the dough and to maintain all the bagels at relatively the same size. Achieving the balance of all the elements takes years of experience. Regarding the boiling before baking, “if the bagel gets overcooked, you kill the yeast and the bagel doesn’t rise” Alex acknowledges, yet ”if the water isn’t hot enough the bagel won’t rise.” The heat of the oven has to be just right. An expert bagel craftsman like Alex can judge the heat automatically. The amount of flame has to be right as it adds colour, but it is the heat the cooks the bagel. Too much flame or a different quantity of malt and sugar will cause the bagels to burn. Alex has seventeen years of experience working in some of Montreal’s most established bagel shops. He looks back now and laughs thinking about when he had five years of experience and thought he knew it all. It is with the experience of the Montreal-trained baker that Montreal’s bagels are made. Alex enjoys being a part of the team at R.E.A.L. Bagel Décarie. As he says, “A happy baker makes happy bagels!”
For more information, go to www.realbageldecarie.com or call 514-340-1110.