The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Some bagel history

Grandpa Larry's picture
Grandpa Larry

Some bagel history

My father was not a baker, but he was in the specialty food business in Cleveland during the 50's, 60's, 70's, and part of the 1980's. The company he owned, and where I worked with him for about ten years, brought us into contact with small bakeries, butcher shops, and groceries as well as some of the bigger local chain grocers.

Sometime during that period he met a bagel baker from New York City who had come to town looking for a location in which to open a bagel shop. For whatever reason, he felt that New York was too crowded, or perhaps the bagel baker's union there was not to his liking. My dad encouraged him and helped him find a location in the middle of Cleveland's large Jewish community.

Back then, bagels were very much an ethnic food. Jews ate them, but no one else did. Sometime in the late 1960's dad approached his bagel baker friend with the idea of packaging and freezing his bagels. Dad would place them in the freezer sections of some of the supermarkets who were his customers. They'd both make a profit!

It worked out fine except for one thing; no one bought them. It wasn't until Lenders was acquired by Kraft (Philadelphia Cream Cheese) and the product modified to suit the pallet of the general population that bagels left the limited orbit of Jewish ethnic taste.

Just thought that someone might find that interesting.

Here's a photo of Dad (Sam) and his sister Sarah in the grocery store he owned in the 1940's.

dabrownman's picture

Like you, I come from a grocery store background. My great grand father opened his first store in TopekaKansas in 1920. My mother had an ad list from the store in 1925 showing white bread on sale that week for 5 cents. Sounds cheap but it was more expensive then, than the 99 cent store brand today when on sale. I'm guessing that the bread was better back then though but, maybe not, that was way before even my mother's time :-)

varda's picture

I grew up in St. Louis in the 1960s.   Sometime around 1966 or so a New York bagel baker came to St. Louis and asked the taxi driver from the airport to take him to the Jewish section.   He opened up a bagel shop there and had people lined up around the block, those bagels were so good.   My dad used to go get them for us, and we'd have a lox and bagel dinner.  That's before bagels were a dime a dozen and not worth even that.   Great story.   Someone should write about the bagel baker's exodus from NYC to the midwest.     -Varda

Kitchen Barbarian's picture
Kitchen Barbarian

GOOD bread was probably about as good then as good bread is now.  CHEAP bread was not better - it staled/molded quickly, had thick hard crusts, and tended towards a certain level of burntness or doughiness, depending on where it was in the oven.  Not to mention stones and grit left in the flour and not sifted out from the milling process. That was not before my father's time.  He remembered. 

While its true that I think they've gone too far with the squishy white stuff, the SWS as it exists today is not the SWS as it existed when it first came out.  I think someone else pointed out recently that Wonderbread and other "name brand" SWS loaves were locally baked fresh daily.  There's a reason the stuff was called "Wonderbread" and it was NOT because you had to wonder if it was bread, LOL!

I still far prefer the SWS for toast and a certain poh-folks breakfast dish known as "milk toast", which I prefer above any breakfast cereal you care to name.  Comes from growing up raised by somebody who himself grew up in a tar paper shack...