I realized that the culture has to come first and if that falls into place…
I come from a long line of bagel-eaters. I learned everything I know from my grandfather Oscar Rudsten who with my grandmother Naomi would host brunch every Sunday morning at their house in Beverly, MA. The spread was epic with bagels of every kind and just about everything else including Lox, Whitefish, Sturgeon, Chive Cream Cheese, Tomatoes, Red Onion…I still remember the taste of those bagels and hopefully always will.
With those brunches floating around my subconscious, I’ve always been on the lookout for a great bagel. I have had the good fortune of living near a few, like Daniel’s and Ess-a-Bagel in New York City or Zayde’s when it was on Route 1 in Saugus. However since then, and until recently, I’ve needed to travel considerably to get a really good bagel. Enter Bagelsaurus.
Not a mile from where I live in Porter Square Cambridge, Bagelsaurus has opened it’s doors and with it a daily line of customers, who like me have been craving what has been lacking around here for some time–a great bagel and cream cheese.
I recently sat down with Mary Ting Hyatt, the Owner of Bagelsaurus to find out more about this gem and how she learned to make a truly great bagel.
How does one get started in the bagel business?
I grew up eating bagels in Delaware, not the kind of bagels I like now but I always loved them. I also went to college in Middlebury, VT and there was a great little bagel shop that was also a great place to hang out, that experience really gave me the idea for having a bagel shop that was more of a gathering place. After college I went to culinary school and worked in a few restaurants to figure out where I wanted to end up. I realized that I wasn’t much of a night person so I decided to focus my culinary pursuits towards the morning hours. Also, I can remember walking around Boston back then looking for a good bagel and not being able to really find anything. Eventually I got a job working at Clear Flour Bakery in Brookline and that was a wonderful experience because I sort of fell in love with the bake off, which is the time from around 4:30am until the shop opens. You’re by yourself so you have to multi-task like managing the ovens and proofing, there’s great energy and it’s just really fun and satisfying.
At that point, I wanted to get some small business experience so I went to work for my friends, Charles and Rachel Kelsey, at a sandwich shop called Cutty’s in Brookline. I worked there for about 3 years. During that time I was testing lots of bagel recipes at home. I had worked previously at America’s Test Kitchen and that really helped me to test by isolating variables and creating my own recipes based on what was already out there. Charles and Rachel actually suggested I started making my bagels at Cutty’s and that eventually turned into a pop-up there on the weekends. I started developing a following there and was also able to start branding Bagelsaurus as an identity, which was very helpful. I was doing 400 bagels a day and mixing all of the dough by hand so I was really running out of space. Eventually that pushed me out to go out and find my own shop. I’ve always loved the vibe in Cambridge and Somerville so I knew I wanted it to be here.
What makes your bagels so good?
Time. One of the things I’ve set out to do is to always make our bagels by hand and not rely on machinery. Without getting too technical, a chain like Dunkin Donuts or Einstein’s is usually making dough in a mixer which probably has a lot of chemical additives and sugar for keeping quality because the bagels are going to be sold much later than they are baked. They will mix a really strong dough and then immediately feed it into a machine that shapes the bagels. Then they might skip the boiling step altogether and just roll the bagels into a steam injection oven because that all takes time. Those machines can spit out 60 shaped bagels per minute so it’s super efficient. The problem is that the dough isn’t developing any flavor like that. We add sour dough and let it ferment and for hours before we shape it. We also shape each bagel by hand and don’t press out the flavorful air that we’ve built up in the dough.
I love your smoked salmon but it’s a little different than I’m used to. How did that come about?
So I was looking for a local lox producer because I knew we wouldn’t have the space to make our own but I couldn’t find anyone super local. However from spending time at local farmer’s markets I was familiar with Matt’s Amazing Smoked Salmon which is now called Boston Smoked Fish Company. I really loved the flavor of it. It’s served cold but it’s smoked over high heat, giving it a cooked texture and also making it a little smokier. It also makes sense for us because we don’t have the space to be slicing per order.
As a former restaurant owner I know this is a tough business. What’s your biggest challenge?
I’m so proud of the staff that we have but it’s also challenging to manage people. I worry about people being happy because the job is so demanding labor wise. I’ve never had to work as hard at any job as our staff is required to do here because we are so busy.
What do you love about your job?
It’s deeply satisfying to create something from nothing and to have people enjoy it. To be able to employee and to create a space for people to get together and build a community, even if it’s just waiting in line. It’s nice getting to know our customers and seeing the same faces come back. I know the staff really likes that too, to know their names and their orders. I also love getting to be active and working with my hands everyday. I never want to lose that. I’m also learning about myself as a business owner. When people ask me if I want to expand I’m not sure because that means that I’m not going to be doing as much shaping, boiling and baking.
Where is your favorite bagel?
Bagelsaurus, and Scratch Bakery in Portland, Maine. I actually did a lot of Bagel research before we opened up. We went down to NYC to visit Black Seed, Baz Bagels and Absolute but Scratch was the most amazing bagel experience I’ve had. It was way more eye opening than anything I had in New York.
You guys are so busy. What feeling do you get when you look out and see a line going out the door?
Sometimes stress and sometimes satisfaction. I also get energized because the energy of a full shop is great. Even though it’s our busiest time, Saturdays are super fun for me and the staff. Our bagels usually make it until close at 3pm but we suggest calling if it’s getting late in the day. It’s a small staff and a small space so we do the best we can to give people what they want.
No complaints here!