Bagels are enjoying a long run in the spotlight among food enthusiasts! Alex Brandwein sought to make this renowned food staple in its true New York style in Chapel Hill. But...what goes into the creation of his crave-worthy bagels?

A New York bagel is formed by boiling the dough in water and then baking it in an oven. This results in a unique puffy bagel with a moist crust, as opposed to the crunchier, tough circle of dough of the traditional variety. He started his business with rented kitchen space in 2019, by doing pop-ups around UNC Chapel Hill’s campus. Brandwein’s Bagels quickly gained popularity, and his pop-ups started selling out just hours after opening.

Emily Slaba

History of the Bagel

Bagels originated within the Jewish communities of Krakow, Poland, in the 17th century. Jewish families developed a tradition of baking and enjoying fresh bagels during the end of Sabbath. These bagels held symbolic meaning due to their circular shape, which represented the eternal circle of life. When the bagel was invented, wheat was an expensive commodity, and the bagel was considered a luxury item served at special occasions. By the early 19th century, the price of wheat dropped significantly, and bagels became an affordable, more everyday food. 

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, there was a mass influx of Jewish immigrants to the United States from across Europe. Many of these immigrants settled in New York City, bringing their affinity for bagels with them. Early on, enterprising bakers sold bagels in Manhattan off push carts as a source of income. Bagels quickly gained popularity as a low cost, filling staple. Not long after, bagel bakeries began to appear across the city.

The humble piece of bread known as a bagel had transitioned from a food eaten on Jewish holidays to a staple of New York city street food eaten by people of all walks of life. The output became known as the New York bagel. 

The New York Bagel

Many food critics claim that there is absolutely nothing better than a New York bagel. Some say it is the water that goes into the dough; others say the magic lies in the hands of the baker. Whatever the reason behind the taste and look, it has earned the New York bagel a spot in food pop culture. Bagels have assimilated into mainstream culture with such prowess, they now have their own emoji and have been reproduced in an extraordinary number of forms and flavors - from rainbow bagels to sandwiches served with cream cheese and salmon.

Emily Slaba

Brandwein's Bagels

Brandwein visited many bagel shops in New York City throughout his childhood. With the number of bagels he ate growing up, one would think Brandwein had a bagel recipe ready to go. Yet, most of his early experience with bagels involved simply eating them - not baking them. I inquired about how he came up with his authentic NY recipe, and he said, “The taste I was going for was deeply ingrained in my memory. While I knew the end goal, I had no idea how to make a good bagel. I pulled together so many recipes, and I just kept working at it until I came up with my own variation. Through a lot of trial-and-error, I finally started making something that I was proud of.”

Emily Slaba

Brandwein stated the reason behind his motivation to open a shop in Chapel hill was, “I loved the idea of being part of a community, and I love the way food brings people together. I love going an inch wide and mile deep and getting to know people and forming real relationships. I thought there was something magical in how a great bagel, shared in an authentic manner, could brighten someone’s day.” His inspiration to bring people together coupled with his perception for a market opportunity for New York bagels in Chapel Hill led to the formation of Brandwein’s Bagels. 

Today, the New York bagel is enjoying widespread popularity and pop culture icon status. Brandwein brought this unique bagel style with him to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, when he opened Brandwein’s Bagels. Every day Brandwein bakes his goods, he is paying homage to his New York roots while satisfying Chapel Hill’s taste buds.

Emily Slaba