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The Man Who Brought Brooklyn Bagel Bakery Back From The Dead

Pumpernickel bagels at Brooklyn Bagel Bakery, Nov. 2018 (Photo by Elina Shatkin/LAist)
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The secret to making a great bagel is in the boil. At Brooklyn Bagel Bakery, rounds of dough are tossed into big kettles of boiling water and stirred, by hand, for 45 seconds to a minute. Then they're baked in an oven. The boiling is crucial for halting the yeast reaction and making sure the bagels develop a crust.

Some places use a steam oven. Other places use a fountain of hot water. Some places don't boil their bagels at all. Not at Brooklyn Bagel Bakery.

"The boiling part is the most important part," owner Vanik Elchibegian tells me — and it needs to be done by hand. "You can boil industrially, it's not gonna get the same result."

Bakeries often add other ingredients to the boil to impart flavor to their bagels. I don't ask Elchibegian what spices Brooklyn Bagel uses. Trade secret. I'm just glad Brooklyn Bagel Bakery is back.

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The Original Recipe

Brooklyn Bagel Bakery opened 65 years ago, in 1953, in West Adams. It moved to its current location at 2217 Beverly Blvd., near the corner of Alvarado, in 1965. From the start, it was a family-run operation. Founder Seymour Friedman passed the business on to his son who eventually passed it on to his son, Richard Friedman.

Many people considered their bagels to be the best in town. They're dense and chewy yet soft, so soft that if you get one fresh from the oven, employees will encourage you to wait a little before cutting it or you'll shred the dough.

Elchibegian owns and runs Bread Los Angeles, a wholesaler that makes bread and sells it to restaurants, food trucks, hotels and other businesses. For years, Brooklyn Bagel Bakery was his largest vendor. The evolution of his relationship with Friedman came naturally.

"We knew each other for years and he said, 'I'm eventually thinking of getting out. Would you be interested?' So it wasn't really like for sale. It was like two vendors, friends along the years, that made a deal," Elchibegian says.

In January 2015, Elchibegian bought the bagel shop.

"The promise I made [Richard], is that we don't change where Brooklyn Bagel is."


The Catastrophe

Three months later, on Memorial Day of 2015, the roof of Brooklyn Bagel collapsed. Authorities red-tagged the building, which Elchibegian estimates is about a century old, and no one was allowed inside.

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Nonetheless, the shop was back in business two days later, churning out bagels at the Montebello kitchen of Bread Los Angeles. That was fine for wholesale clients — Brooklyn Bagels sells to tons of businesses throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties — but it didn't help Westlake residents and retail customers craving the company's goods.

After three months, the building was shored up and employees were finally allowed in to retrieve cash registers, signage and other equipment. It would take another three years to reopen the business.


The Revival

Last Friday, Brooklyn Bagel threw open its doors. The retail area is now much smaller. The display case is new and the counter is in a different place. A few unpopular items — the banana walnut bagel, the energy bar — have been removed from the menu. The layout has changed but the bagels are just as good.

It helps that Elchibegian learned the tricks of the trade from Friedman. Plus, many of Brooklyn Bagel's employees have worked there for two decades.

Elchibegian expects to produce between 800 and 1,500 bagels, daily, in 15 varieties. One of those is the hearth bagel, a plain bagel that's baked directly on the oven stone rather than being placed on a tray. The result is a smaller, browner, crunchier bagel.

The other bagels are also delicious. The jalapeno cheese is crunchy, with a dose of spice that sneaks up on you. The center of each bialy is heaped with toasted onions, sesame seeds and poppyseeds. The pumpernickel has that hit of rye. They are still, arguably, the best bagels in town.

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