A (Really) Frozen Bagel

Rolling Dough in Alaska’s Capital

Fresh from the oven: Ken Alper makes New York bagels, 4500 miles from Midtown.
Geoff KIRScH
Fresh from the oven: Ken Alper makes New York bagels, 4500 miles from Midtown.

By Geoff Kirsch

Published August 06, 2012, issue of August 10, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Among the many things I’d resigned myself to leaving behind when my wife and I moved to Alaska from New York City — family and friends, Yankee Stadium, never having to drive — bagels topped the list.

And I don’t mean the fluffy, soft roll-with-a-hole available at every Starbucks on earth. I’m talking about a real New York bagel: firm and shiny on the outside, dense and chewy on the inside, no toasting necessary.

Imagine my surprise to find this doughy comfort food in Juneau (aka the Upper Upper Upper West Side), a tiny strip of civilization sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and a 1,500 square-mile ice field.

Read the Forward’s profiles of four fascinating Alaskan Jews.

And yet, Silverbow Bagels, owned by husband-wife duo Ken Alper and Jill Ramiel, has now been supplying Alaska’s capital city with traditional kettle-boiled bagels for 15 years. In fact, Alper, 46, and Ramiel, 44 — from New Jersey and Staten Island, respectively — bake such an authentic bagel that my parents, who recently relocated to Southern California, tote dozens back with them after visits. (My in-laws still live in the Bronx, so they don’t need to do that.)

“We wanted a taste of home,” Ramiel said one recent afternoon. “Of course, we had no clue what we were about to undertake. It’s phenomenal we stayed married.”

Looking for adventure, and emboldened by summer work in Alaska’s tourism industry, the two moved to Juneau permanently in the early 1990s after completing graduate studies at the University of Washington. Initially, the notion was to open a luncheonette, itself risky in a town where both Taco Bell and McDonald’s franchises folded. But they fell in love with the 98-year-old Messerschmidt Building, which has housed a bakery in one form or another since 1902. This makes Silverbow, named for the site of Juneau’s earliest gold discovery, the oldest continuously operating bakery in the state.

“Two Jews buying a bakery — naturally, our thoughts turned to bagels,” Alper said about the couple’s decision to buy the space in 1996.

“And they had to be real,” Ramiel added. “We couldn’t do it any other way. Our mothers would’ve disowned us.”

But their desire to produce authentic bagels was quickly met with challenges. There was their lack of experience; a scarcity of traditional bagel-making equipment, like ovens or kettles, and the fact that few baking supply companies shipped to Alaska, especially considering that no roads lead into or out of Juneau. Equipment brokers and ingredient wholesalers kept pushing the “modern way” of bagel baking, in which prefabricated or from-mix bagels are steamed instead of boiled.

Learn five Jewish facts about Alaska you never knew before.

But Alper and Ramiel stood steadfast in their resolve to introduce Juneau to its first New York bagel — as Alper puts it, “You don’t move all the way to Alaska to do something expedient” — ultimately piecing together hardware from independent bagel shops in the Lower 48 that were forced out of business by industrial bagels.

Embracing Alaska’s do-it-yourself spirit, the couple renovated the space and refurbished the gear themselves, with help from friends. Most notably, they enlisted Alper’s childhood pal Rick Leibowitz, a bagel shop owner in New Jersey, to consult on their kitchen, their process and their recipe.

“Our bagel is Rick’s bagel,” Alper said, offering several other explanations for their quality. “We also use barley malt, which a lot of people skip. And then there’s the water.”

It turned out that Juneau’s water comes directly from glacier and snowmelt, with a mineral content similar to the Catskills reservoirs that supply New York.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.