What is it about bagels that makes them so popular? Is it their crunchy outer crust? Is it the variety of bagel flavors such as blueberry, onion or pumpernickel? Or is it that bagels are low in fat and make a great snack? For whatever reason, bagels have recently gotten a lot more attention as a mainstream food.
If you haven't noticed, bagels are everywhere. There are several brands and flavors to choose from at your grocer. There are advertisements on TV for extra crunchy bagels or even bagel bars. You can even place an order on the internet to have bagels delivered to your doorstep from New York.
So whom do we owe credit for this bagel mania? No one knows for sure. Bagels have been traced as far back as 1610 and there are many stories about the bagel's origin. The most popular tells that the bagel was invented in Vienna in 1683. A local baker shaped yeast dough in an uneven circle to resemble a stirrup. He did this in honor of the King of Poland who liberated Austria from Turkish rule. The King was a great horseman, thus explaining the shape resembling a stirrup. Buegal is the Austrian word for stirrup.
Bagels were officially sanctioned in Poland as a gift for women in childbirth. They symbolized of the endless circle of life and mothers used them as teething rings for their infants.
There are stories of how bagels were invented as economical food for poor people. Bagels are also considered an ethnic food of the Jewish immigrants who are thought to have brought it to America.
A true bagel is perfectly plain. The secret to a bagel's glossy crunchy sheen and a chewy middle is that it's boiled then baked.
There are several bagels shops in Fargo. Each shop has its own special recipe for its bagels, but all of them use the traditional boil-and-bake method.
32nd and Bagel was the first bagel shop in Fargo. Dick Herbst, the owner, had an idea for opening a new business but wasn't exactly sure what to sell. Herbst isn't new to the challenges of the business world. His family owned and operated several fashion stores throughout the state for nearly 90 years. He was also involved with the opening of the Grainery and the Old Broadway in Fargo.
A friend in Florida introduced the bagel store idea to Herbst. It piqued an interest but Herbst had his doubts. He said, "I thought a bagel store in Fargo would die because there's not a large enough Jewish population." He also recalled visiting a bagel shop in New York with his father as a boy. "I thought those bagels were awful. They were very hard and there were only a few choices of flavors," said Herbst.
He began researching the bagel industry and visited several shops throughout the country. After four years of investigating and experimenting, he opened 32nd and Bagel in the spring of 1994.
"It was a happy surprise," said Herbst on the success of his store. He said he thought he would be educating people about bagels along with selling them. It turned out Fargoans already had some bagel knowledge and were basically just waiting for a bagel shop to open.
Herbst's bagel recipe is based on the traditional New York bagel. He has recipes for 30 varieties which the store periodically rotates.
"We have some die-hard bagel fans," said Annette Good, manager of 32nd and Bagel. She said people were calling during last winter's blizzard to see if the store was open so they could have their bagel for the day.
"There is definitely a bagel explosion going on," said Herbst. He said the accessibility and variety of bagels is part of the reason for their popularity.
Borna's Bagel Bakery and Espresso Bar has been open since August 1995. Borna Mozafari has had much experience in the bakery business. He was a baker in France for 10 years and worked in a bagel shop in New York.
Curious about the bagel market in Fargo, Mozafari did a survey that showed people in the area prefer a softer bagel. Knowing this, he traveled back to France to collaborate with a friend on a recipe for a softer bagel.
Mozafari believes atmosphere is important in a successful bagel shop. His shop's walls are decorated with his art work from his years as a student of modern art in Paris. He feels it is important to keep the products and atmosphere unique.
Part of that uniqueness is bringing entertainment to the shop. He has brought in local bands on the weekends, but there are plans for having entertainment consistently. Friday nights will be devoted to the younger crowd. Local alternative bands with members from South High and Shanely, to name a few, will perform.
"We give an opportunity for younger bands to perform," said Mike Majidian, an employee of Mozafari's shop. He said it's a chance for them to get experience on stage and crowd reaction to their music.
Saturday nights will feature jazz and blues. Jim City, the Vantage Jazz Combo, and Fluid Groove are a few of the bands that provide a mature jazz sound.
"We like to call ourselves the 'Bagel Boutique'," said Majidian because of the many unique items and novelties available at the shop.
After a year of preparations Lets Bagel opened in January 1996. Sisters-in-law Jill Perhus and Tracy Perhus-Rheault got a basic bagel recipe and experimented with their own tastes. They said they have a strong love for food and use ingredients from their hearts. "We are really into flavor," said Perhus.
Because the shop is located downtown it has a wide range of clientele. Perhus said, "We get the conservative business people, families and the progressive younger crowd in our shop all throughout the day."
The two agree that long hours, atmosphere and friendly employees are what is takes to make a successful bagel shop. "We been doing this for a month now and we still love each other," said Perhus.
Who would have thought there would be such a big market for bagels in Fargo. Which brings us back to our original question. What is it about bagels that make them so popular? All the bagel shops owners in Fargo agree the number one reason is that bagels are healthy. They are high in carbohydrates and low in fat. With the many varieties of bagels, eating healthy is tasty and fun.