Save the Bagels!
April 25, 2012 | by Rachel Harkai
By 9:00 A.M., brothers Ben (’06, M.U.P. ’10) and Dan Newman (’10, B.B.A. ’10) have already been on their feet for hours. Dan stands over an industrial stovetop, carefully placing the circles of dough that were kneaded, shaped, and chilled the previous evening into a large pot of boiling water. Nearby, Ben pulls trays of freshly baked bagels out of an oven and tops them with melting slices of cheddar cheese.
The Newman brothers are the team behind Detroit Institute of Bagels, a startup Detroit bakery with the goal of creating “fine bagels for the masses.” DIB, as it has come to be known by locals, already has come a long way since its early-2011 beginnings in the kitchen of the brothers’ flat in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood.
Though Ben gained experience in the food industry while working at Short’s Brewery in Bellaire, Michigan, he says that it wasn’t until 2008, when he started his graduate studies in urban planning, that he began considering a food business of his own—and how it might be a positive use for vacant property in Detroit.
“It planted a little seed,” he says, while sprinkling sea salt over a tray of bagels. “I started thinking about what I would like to see in the city, and how a big part of what makes people’s experiences in cities is the food.”
Photo: Evan Hansen
At the same time, the younger Dan Newman was fresh out of LSA and considering the possibility of entrepreneurship.
“We started thinking about what kind of [food business] would attract both residents and visitors, and we realized that bagels were a glaring thing that was missing in Detroit,” says Ben. (Detroit’s only dedicated bagel shop is a lone Einstein Bros. franchise on the campus of Wayne State University.)
So with little more than a dream—and practically no experience actually making bagels—the brothers got to work in their home kitchen and began tweaking what would become their signature crunchy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside bagel recipe. Before long, DIB was born.
Since they first started turning out small batch orders in the kitchen of their Church Street apartment in March 2011, DIB has come to represent one of the most creative models for starting and running a new business, especially in a Rust Belt city. They sell (and sell out of) bagels each week at Detroit Eastern Market Tuesdays; they’ve created their own “crowdfunding” campaign, www.savethebagels.com, through which they raised more than $10,000 to buy a commercial oven; and they narrowly missed out on a finalist position in the inaugural Hatch Detroit competition, in which Detroiters with ideas for business ventures could vie for $50,000 in startup cash and additional business development services.
Recently, the Newmans secured a permanent brick-and-mortar space to house DIB. The new headquarters are under renovation on Michigan Avenue in Corktown, the same burgeoning neighborhood where they began their venture. And while Dan and Ben plan to keep using fresh, high-quality ingredients to develop new flavors (think bacon cheddar, blueberry ricotta, and cherry chocolate) to keep customers coming back for more, their dreams for DIB go beyond simply creating a delicious taste.
“We’d like to make Detroit a better place to live,” Dan says. “We want to provide bagels daily to everyone that lives here, while also providing something you can’t get anywhere else as a way to drive people into the city.”