Credit: Beigel Bake
If you ask any Londoner where you could get the best bagels in town, I can guarantee that Beigel Bakes in Shoreditch will spring to mind. The iconic bagel shop has been a staple for visitors on Brick Lane since it first opened in 1974, serving up fresh bagels 24 hours a day. A family-run business, the shop has grown in popularity, and can even count the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as some of their customers. They serve all the classic staples, from salt beef bagel to onion platzel, at very affordable prices. The exterior is understated but fits itself perfectly into the hustle and bustle of the East End and has come to be a quintessential institution of the area. Last week I had the privilege of speaking to managing director and son of the founder, Daniel Cohen, where we discussed the shops humble origins, the impact of the pandemic and more.
Hi Daniel, thank you for taking the time to speak with me.
Hi, how are you doing?
I’m good thanks, what about you?
So Beigel Bake is a family business, I’m sure you were heavily involved throughout its history. At what age did you fully join the company and what has your role been?
It was already established by my father and uncle prior to me becoming a member; I’ve been going there all my life. I formally became a full-time employee at the age of 19, I’m now 38, so I have been there roughly 20 years. My dad put me through all the ranks, so I started off more or less cleaning and helping out and slowly took on more responsibility to where I am now as a manager. After my dad passed away, my brother and I inherited his share and became partners in the business.
How important is it for you then that Beigel Bake stays a family business?
It is fundamental to my life, it’s a huge part of my life. My home away from home. It is a place where I go and see family members and members from the public that I’ve known since I was young. I have customers coming in saying “Wow, I’ve seen you grow up all these years ever since you were a little boy and now you’re standing here as a man and owner.” It’s continental to my life. It would be hard to do without it.
Beigel Bake was established back in 1974. Can you tell us a little bit about its origin story and how you have maintained the traditional feel of the shop?
It’s a place that has developed over time. It started off as a wholesaler where there was really no shop front whatsoever. Then my dad started dabbling in selling to the public and people he knew, passersby who could smell the bagels being made came by and wanted a piece. It is something that has built up over time slowly and slowly and has expanded that way, quite naturally, as I think most small family owned business did. It’s not like these chains that buy a plot, kit it out and there you go – brand new shop. And in terms of the atmosphere, I don’t think it’s just the décor; we’re all friendly, we all know each other, we all grew up together. So I think it’s completely different to some generic chain that just gets churned out every few weeks.
Credit: Beigel Bake
I’ve lived in New York where Bagels and Jewish foods are deeply engrained in its culture and history. How would you say that is similar for London?
Perhaps not in the whole of London, but definitely in the East End, because that’s where all the Jewish immigrants started off when they came into the country. Unlike some cultures, we’ve very much become a part of our surrounding culture and added to it. We didn’t keep to ourselves. The culture became ingrained in the area.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, many local family businesses are being hit the worst. However, back in January you launched a delivery app – how has this helped during these times and how has it affected the day-to-day business?
It was something we were talking about before the pandemic became the pandemic. Someone approached us, and we’d been planning with him a little while before. The timing couldn’t be better, obviously, because people weren’t coming through the shop door and this way, we could at least get some food off the shelves and make some sort of trade. Although it’s not taken off hugely, it’s still got time to grow, awareness needs to be built. But it’s definitely helped.
In a recent article you released your iconic bagel recipe, I will have to give that one a go and see how it fares.
Try it and see! It’s not as easy as just following the words, there’s a method to it that you learn over time.
I also saw on your social media that you had some special visitors in the form of Prince William and Kate Middleton. How was that experience?
It was a very welcome surprise; it was really great. It felt like a tribute to my dad and his partner for all the hard work and all the years they spent doing what they do. My dad passed away but his original partner, Sammy, is still alive. He’s 84 years old now and he was there as well. It was really lovely for him, it really put a smile on his face, it was nice.
I think especially with everything going on in the world right now, something like that is needed.
It did help build a little bit of awareness and that week was actually quite a good week, but obviously as news moves on, it didn’t last, and it’s taken a slight downturn again. With the current climate we’re lucky to still be going. It is what it is, hopefully we can keep our heads above water and come out the other side smiling.
Of course, I definitely hope that will be the case. Lastly, a question I’m sure you get asked way too much, what is your go-to bagel topping? For me, I would have to say the classic lox with cream cheese.
To be honest that’s mine too! It was actually our original best seller before we had salt beef on offer, that was always the go-to. The standard order would be two salmon and cream cheeses and the donut.
Ooh I haven’t tried your donuts yet. I’ll have to give them a go next time.
We only do the one kind – jam on the inside, sugar on the outside.
That’s the classic!
Yeah, we tend to stick to classics, so the salmon and cream cheese, the jam donut. Some people do avocado and chives, etc. but we just stick to the basics. The classics.
Well classic truly is best! Thank you so much for your time.
Download the Brick Lane Beigel app on the App Store to get some fresh bagels delivered straight to your door or check out their website here.
Edited by Anoushka Chakrapani, Food and Drink Editor