Once upon a time, before the Holocaust, you could buy your bagels on the streets of the Jewish towns and cities of Eastern Europe. They were sold from wicker baskets, sometimes hanging from rods attached to the rim of the basket.
For only a few pennies, a bagel could make a cheap lunch or an after-school snack. Although you generally had to have a license to sell on the streets, unlicensed orphan children could be seen selling bagels to help their widowed mothers support the family.
When Jews immigrated to America in large numbers before and after the turn of the century, the bagel sellers came with them. They were a fixture on the Lower East Side in New York, where bagels were hawked on the crowded sidewalks or sold from pushcarts.
Now, more than a century later, a young entrepreneur has brought a modern version of the sidewalk bagel to the BeltLine in east Atlanta. Armed with an Innovation Bloom grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, Beeline Bagels founder Niki Hetchkop spent most of last year creating a corporate LLC and researching the city’s food and business regulations. She found a commercial kitchen to develop her product line and bought a custom refrigerated pushcart for her BeltLine bagel business.
Hetchkop says that the community’s reception has been amazing so far. “First time I sold out all the 200 bagels I’d baked in about an hour or so,” she said. “I’ve been getting a lot of Instagram messages asking where are you, where can I get your bagels again? And I was really honored that people who had tried the bagels when I first launched are coming back for more. That’s really, really very special.”
Hetchkop says that she came up with the concept for Beeline Bagels not by studying old history books about Jewish life, but just by walking around her Inman Park neighborhood with her husband, David, who also has a passion for bagels.
“I was thinking, I want to come up with an alternative way to be able to sell my bagels,” she said. “How do I get these to market? So, after countless hours of research, I discovered my ideal business was going to be mobile so I could move throughout the community. What I have is like a bagel store on wheels, where the bagels I bake are prepackaged so they stay warm from the oven. They come with flavored or plain cream cheese so you can spread them with just the right amount that you like.”
The featured savory cream cheese flavors are scallion and veggie; for your sweet tooth, there’s honey and strawberry smash. The initial menu had sesame, poppyseed, salt and cinnamon raisin bagels, but Hetchkop, who has a background in marketing and communications, is open to suggestions.
“I’ve really tried to make this a company that is serving the community,” she said. “It’s kind of like by the community, for the community. So I know that my menu will evolve.”
In the old days, bagels were not only tasty but were supposed to offer protection against demons and evil spirits, warding off the evil eye and bringing good luck. Because of their circular shape, which had no beginning or end, they were served at lifecycle events, when a woman was in labor and even after a funeral, at a shiva.
Now Hetchkop has her eye on the catering market and all those bar and bat mitzvahs where nothing keeps away the evil spirt like a big, tasty, chewy handmade dough bomb.
“My bagels are big,” she admits. “I knew from the start that I wanted to make a big, heavily seeded, gluttonous bagel because when you finish one of my bagels I want you to have that I-could-take-a-nap feeling, yeah, that’s exactly what I want.”