If you ask any Bostonian to name a basic breakfast staple, chances are a bagel will come to mind. But where did this wondrous, versatile boiled and baked bread get its beginnings?
The true origins are considered unknown and much argued about, with written records from Krakow, Poland mentioning bagels as early as 1610. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that Eastern European immigrants brought them to the US and much, much longer until they rose to the mass popularity they enjoy today.
For the Boston bagel, it all started with Eagerman’s. A full-service bakery, Eagerman’s was a family-owned operation that started in Natick, Massachusetts in the late 1950s. At this time, bagels were still seen as a predominantly “ethnic food” and were only a part of Eagerman’s business, but as their popularity increased, so did the company’s production of bagels.
“I joined Eagerman’s in 1973,” comments Peter DeRosa, former master baker and co-owner of Rosenfeld’s Bagels. “As its bagel business grew, I was put in charge of all bagel production.”
And it was quite a production. While probably best known as the Original King Bagel, its retail shop in Brookline, Eagerman’s had wholesale contracts with several local supermarket chains, including Stop-n-Shop and Star Market. The company was pumping out thousands of bagels each day from its commercial kitchen simply to meet the demand of those contracts. In fact, Moe Eagerman, owner and founder of the famous bake shop, can be credited with the invention of much of today’s modern bagel-making equipment. (He also takes credit for the cinnamon raisin bagel if you happen to be a fan.)
“We were crazy busy, but it really wasn’t what I wanted to be doing,” adds Peter. “There was no art to it.”
That’s when Peter saw an ad Marc Rosenfeld had placed in his search for a master baker to join him at Rosenfeld’s.
“Honestly, I wanted to open my own full-service bakery, but when I met Marc there was clearly a connection. We were like the two halves of a pair of gloves,” Peter says with a chuckle.
So in 1977, Peter joined Rosenfeld’s Bagels. Soon Marc stepped away from daily operations and Peter expanded the menu from 8 to 20 bagel flavors and similarly increased the number of spread choices too.
“We were offering things no one else was. Most places you got a bagel. No sandwich, no cream cheese. We started to get some attention for doing things different,” Peter continues.
At about this time, Allen and Diane Kupelnick opened Kupel’s Bakery, a full-service bakery in Brookline. Like Rosenfeld’s they also offered NY-style bagels and, like Peter, Allen had also worked for Eagerman’s, even going so far as to opening his store at one of Eagerman’s former retail outlets, Original King Bagel.
As bagels grew in popularity, becoming a mainstream breakfast staple, franchises entered the scene. In the early 1990s, chains like Ultimate Bagel, Bruegger’s and Einstein started to pop up on every corner, claiming to offer authentic NY-style bagels, quick, convenient and cheap. And while they enjoyed a brief period of popularity, their novelty eventually wore thin as local consumers saw through the claims and went back to the small, independent shops they knew, loved and trusted.
In late 2000, Rosenfeld’s was purchased by one of its longtime, industrious team members, whose baking training was initiated by Peter. Today, the team continues to carry on the traditions and values originally set forth by Marc Rosenfeld back in 1973. Over those 50 years, Rosenfeld’s has weathered many storms and survived where others have not. It has received numerous awards for its bagels and challah and has what some might even call a cult-like following among its most loyal of customers. Recently recognized by the city’s mayor for its contribution to the city of Newton, there’s no doubt that Rosenfeld’s has played an integral role in the history of Boston’s Bagels.