On a recent visit to Richmond, Virginia, I overheard a couple of locals carping about the lack of good bagels. A third person butted in — that’s not just a New York thing — to let them know that Nate’s Bagels had launched.
Nate Mathews, a New England transplant, hand-rolls and kettle-boils his bagels, which he sells at local farmer’s markets and through subscription bagel clubs — pickup locations, really — at local indie stores. Mathews is also whipping up his own homemade cream cheese.
“Our bagels have a lingering aftertaste and depth of flavor that is not normally found in a bagel,” Mathews said. “Richmonders appreciate that. They appreciate food.”
With zero baking experience but a love of Jewish food, Mathews began baking bagels at home in December 2015 and started the business with his wife, Lauren, in May 2016.
“I was a civil engineer. Now I’m a bagel engineer,” he says with Borscht-Belt timing. “Jewish cuisine has been special to me for a long time. My neighbor and best friend Danielle growing up was from a loving Jewish family. Her mom made latkes and matzo and often had their temple community over for communal meals.”
As Mathews continually refines his bagels, he’s starting to win over doubters. Now, he’s working on securing more retail locations.
“Our bagels seem to have caught on, although it’s still hard for people to get their hands on them. But there is buzz for sure,” he said. “I’ve had probably a dozen New Yorkers come to the farmer’s market with piercing skeptic eyes. ‘Who are you? Are you Jewish? There’s no way these bagels are good. We’re in Richmond’. I ask them to see for themselves. After all, maybe they’re right — I haven’t spent their 30 years in New York. Then they come back next week and shake my hand and order a dozen.”
More of the Week’s Hottest Dish:
Michael Kaminer is a contributing editor at the Forward.