It's one of our country's most popular breakfast foods, yet our fine city has been sorely lacking in quality bagels. Luckily, friends and business partners Dan Herbst and Geoff Hardman are seeking to change that with the launch of Cleveland Bagel Co. Founding their company in 2013, the pair was seeking to fill what they perceived as a bagel-shaped hole in the Cleveland food market. They wanted to make something similar to the real-deal bagels they had experienced in other cities, not merely the "bagel-shaped bread" Herbst says Clevelanders have been stuck with for quite some time now.
Herbst said they had a lot of conversations over drinks about the idea of starting their own bagel making business. Then Herbst was, as he calls it, "blessed with the opportunity of unemployment." He went on a few interviews but the prospects were just too depressing. Instead, the pair decided to invest their time in something they felt passionate about.
"Geoff and I had both had great bagels in other places; we knew what we wanted," says Herbst. "We started to read about the history of bagel making, learning the tradition. We finally settled on a concept that's something between a New York-style bagel and a Montreal-style bagel. It's a Cleveland-style bagel."
Cleveland Bagel Co.'s version is hand rolled and contains malt, like those found in Montreal. They're also boiled prior to baking, just like those in New York.
Once the basic bagel recipe was perfected, Herbst and Hardman crafted traditional variations including sesame, poppy seed, everything, cranberry orange, toasted oat and asiago.
The men save their real creativity for an ever-growing line of schmears, of which there are now more than 40. The thyme-black pepper-horseradish schmear, for instance, is Herbst's favorite spread. Other varieties include blueberry-lemon-mint and Earl Grey tea with orange zest. They rotate through flavors, delivering different varieties to the coffee shops and markets.
"We've had a really great reaction," says Herbst. "I told Geoff, I have to stop. People keep coming up to me and saying, 'This is the best bagel I've ever had.' I ask them, 'Really?' But seriously, I haven't heard one negative reaction yet."
Cleveland Bagel Co.'s bagels and schmears can be found in several locations around town, including Erie Island Coffee Co. in Rocky River, Pour Cleveland downtown, Rising Star Coffee Roasters in Ohio City, the Cleveland Flea and several area farmers' markets. Herbst says their ultimate goal is to open their own retail shop. "The east side has Bialy's Bagels," says Herbst. "Bialy's can have the east side; we're not trying to mess with that." He says they would most likely open their shop in their own neighborhood, Ohio City.
"The main reason we started — and this is something I really want to emphasize — is to make something really good to eat, that over 99 percent of Cleveland can afford," says Herbst. "We want to be the bagel shop in Cleveland that's accessible to anyone.