Bagels are in Barry Kluwgant's blood. His father was a bagel connoisseur and baker, and his grandfather before that. Now the Bagel Co. owner is on a mission to educate Sydneysiders about the Jewish treat, which he says is more than just a roll with a hole.
"What makes bagels special is their chewiness and the density, and the different styles you find depending on the baker. They almost have their own personalities. Some might have a really hard crust, for example, although we find Australians prefer a softer texture."
Bagels are boiled or steamed before baking to achieve their signature chewiness. New York City is the spiritual home of bagels today, brought to the United States by eastern European migrants.
Bagels were rarely accompanied by extra ingredients in Europe, however Americans quickly began slicing the doughy orbs to spread cream cheese and drape silky lox (Scandinavian-style salt-cured salmon).
"When I moved to Australia 10 years ago from the US, I was like 'Where the hell are all the good bagels?'," says Candy Berger, who opened North Bondi's Lox in a Box bagel takeaway shop in December.
"The customer response to bagels has exceeded our expectations. Now we're focused on expanding the brand and collaborating with other food businesses. There's a Father's Day special bagel coming up, for example, featuring smoked beef cheek we made with LP's Quality Meats in Chippendale."
Kluwgant says bagel popularity has increased significantly in Sydney over the past three years.
"My grandparents founded Glick's bakery in the 1960s, which is an institution for bagels in Melbourne. I moved to Sydney 15 years ago and took over the Glick's factories and contracts in NSW. We now supply to Harris Farm, Woolworths and independent grocers.
"Glick's Rose Bay opened seven years ago, and in 2018 I rebranded the business as The Bagel Co., partly because of the traction bagels were getting in Sydney." That traction led to a Surry Hills Bagel Co. store opening on Reservoir Street this month, offering bagels with beetroot-cured salmon and six types of cream cheese.
Other holey roll hotspots include Iggy's Bread in Bronte, Cafe Ella in Darlington, Brooklyn Boy Bagels' Marrickville outpost, and Bondi's Wellington Cake Shop, which supplies the golden hoops to Lox in a Box.
"A lot of places have made bagels for years, but it almost felt undercover," says Berger. "They didn't push bagels that much, perhaps thinking non-Jewish Aussies would rather just eat a sandwich.
"We thought we would have a mainly Jewish clientele at Lox, but it's been amazing to see so many people from different walks of life enjoying bagels. I'm still a little shocked by it."
Kluwgant suggests the bagel's growing popularity in Sydney is due to people seeking out food that's different and slightly premium.
"At the same time, people don't want something too complicated either," he says. "Quite often, you just want satisfying comfort food and bagels offer that. No one finishes a bagel and says, 'Well, that was no good.'"