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Silverbow Bagels opened in 1997, with only two items on the menu: bagels with or without a schmear, and chocolate chip cookies. And while this excited Juneau’s modest Jewish community (roughly 300 of a total population of 30,000) —Silverbow counts among its earliest devotees Jay Rabinowitz, former chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court — Alper and Ramiel quickly learned the difficulty of running a niche business in a small, isolated place.
“Back east, everyone buys bagels by the dozen; here, hardly anyone does,” said Ramiel, who was also surprised to find Sunday their least busy day.
“Nobody came in, and I mean nobody. But it was unfathomable for us not to open on Sunday mornings, so we just ignored the fact that it was empty.”
But there were good surprises, too. Silverbow’s Friday challah — Ramiel’s mother’s recipe — quickly became popular with non-Jews, especially Juneau’s substantial Filipino community, which consistently buys the bulk of the batch because of its similarity to the traditional Filipino egg bread ensaimada.
Over the years, through trial and error, Alper and Ramiel adapted their menu to include a variety of breakfast, lunch and dinner options. They also cater events, like our son’s bris, for instance. And the lox? That comes from wild Bristol Bay sockeye salmon, brined and cold smoked by a local commercial fisherman. It’s so good, Alper and Ramiel bring coolers of it back east (don’t tell Zabar’s).
And while Silverbow Bagels has grown into something of a Juneau institution — Sundays eventually picked up, although still not much market for dozens — it remains a challenge purveying products that customers don’t necessarily understand.
“We have the greatest knish recipe,” Ramiel said, by way of example. “But ultimately, we don’t have faith we can sell it. We’d have to call it a ‘potato pocket’ or something.”
“But from-scratch, kettle-boiled bagels will always be our centerpiece,” Alper said.
“It’s not rocket science, but to do it right takes practice, finesse and a lot of attention to details.”
Now all Juneau needs is a Chinese restaurant that stays open on Christmas.
Geoff Kirsch is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Huffington Post and Adventure Cyclist Magazine and on Comedy Central.