Business Spotlight: Harbor abuzz about bagels
There is a buzz in the air. You can hear it. You can smell it. And if you’re lucky, you can taste it.
But you better arrive early if you want to see what all the fuss is about.
The South Sound has gone bonkers for bagels, and customers are lining up sometimes for up to an hour to purchase a hand-rolled, East Coast-style bagel at Gig Harbor’s tasty new darling, B’s Bagels & Butters.
Located near the Gig Harbor post office at 3308 Uddenberg Lane, B’s Bagels opened its doors last month. It sold out of bagels in about two hours on the first day.
Background in bagels and butters
By fusing her culinary pedigree and East Coast upbringing, B’s owner Brittany Erwin has skillfully blended her childhood fondness for comfort food (the bagel) with her creative and innovative palate as a chef.
Smears and butters add that secret sauce to a B’s Bagel. Beyond the traditional cream cheese, flavors might include scallion, horseradish, and smoked salmon. One recent customer recommended the pepita and pesto and scallion cream cheeses.
An experienced chef, Erwin was no stranger to creating compound butters. She decided to add a touch of creativity to her butter selection, resulting in rotating flavors such as honey butter, roasted garlic herb butter, and raspberry citrus butter. Customers can purchase these sweet and savory spreads to go in 2 oz containers.
Customers Amanda and Vincent Valadez developed a fondness for good bagels while living on military bases. Arriving extra early on a recent Saturday morning, the Valedez’s were hoping to try the pesto cream cheese. Their taste buds were still savoring the pecan cinnamon sugar butter they had on a plain bagel last time, “it was amazing.”
Long road from idea to opening
During the pandemic, Erwin departed from her chef position at Cooks Tavern in Tacoma and joined the Gig Harbor-based Permission To Start Dreaming foundation, which supports veterans and first responders. As she worked as a chef for the PTSD Warrior program, she began to transform her bagel shop dream into a reality.
When the original location in Tacoma didn’t work out, the owner of Be Better Gym offered the adjacent space with a small kitchen. Erwin chose Gig Harbor as the site in November 2021, hoping to open in three to six months.
However, it took two Kickstarters, multiple contractors, and navigating various small business setup details before the bagels finally reached the hands of hungry customers last month.
Erwin had envisioned her business to start small, with a modest customer base in the beginning. She and her team of eight started by hand-rolling 350-400 bagels daily in her compact 230-square-foot kitchen.
However, due to the growing demand, Erwin had to upgrade from a 20 to a 60-quart mixer. Presently, they make and serve about 650 freshly baked bagels each day.
“The lines on weekends are absolutely crazy,” Erwin said.
If you bake it, they will come.
Customers report driving from as far away as Seattle, Auburn, Port Orchard and the Key Peninsula to feed their bagel craving.
The B’s Bagel enthusiasts have followed the breadcrumbs from social media platform to brick-n-mortar store. Bagel buyers strategize their early morning arrival. Families divide and conquer to get around the store’s limit (on most days) of six bagels per customer.
It’s Mom who commands the bagel brigade for the Dini family on Saturday morning. An hour-long wait seems trivial in comparison to Lisa Dini’s 20-year-long wait for a good bagel since moving from Chicago to Tacoma.
Dini crossed the bridge early, arriving at B’s Bagels just after 7 am. Being first in line paid off, “The bagels were wonderful and my family devoured them quickly,” she said. “Crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.”
A starring role
While waiting in line, bagel aficionados (many of them East Coast transplants) passionately discuss the attributes and culinary techniques required for creating the perfect bagel.
“The bagel is the vehicle,” says Colin Campbell of Tacoma, who was born and raised on the East Coast. “I would disagree,” interjects his wife, Gloria Campbell, “The bagel has to be the star.”
Colin is quick to step back from the bagel debate. With a smile, he reflects, “Maybe her bagel cred is a little stronger than mine. She spent time in Rochester (New York).”
“Shaping them (is hard), you have to turn a square into a circle,” said Gloria, who has experimented with making her own bagels. You can end up with “little pockets that don’t cook,” she says.
Time to make the bagels
Erwin perfected the bagel through trial and error.
“We make a giant batch of dough. Take the big blob and make 100 small balls and form them into bagels. All by hand,” she said.
After they’ve been refrigerated for 18 hours, the bagels undergo boiling. The process involves the use of 5-gallon tubs of barley malt, which, when combined with alkaline water, imparts a distinct shine to the bagel.
To create a unique flavored bagel, Erwin must adjust the ingredient proportions when adding flavors to the dough since it changes the moisture levels. Science meets art in the creation of a gourmet bagel.
B’s Bagels is putting in a lot of effort to ramp up production to meet the growing demand. This summer, Erwin plans to introduce salads and incorporate locally sourced bread to expand their sandwich offerings (the bagel breakfast sandwich is very popular).
The finished product is “definitely worth the wait,” said Rick Reel, who works at nearby Gig Harbor Audio and is making his third visit to the shop.
On a previous trip, he arrived just 15 minutes after the store opened. He made the mistake of leaving and coming back later, hoping the line would be shorter. “All but 3 (kinds of) bagels” were sold out when he returned. “This place is awesome,” he said, “it was needed.”
Hours: 8 a.m. until sold out, Tuesday through Sunday
Address: 3308 Uddenberg Lane, Gig Harbor (next to Be Better Gym, across from Gig Harbor Post Office)
Contact: [email protected]
Writer’s note: After writing this story, I decided to treat myself to a B’s bagel. What’s the fuss, I thought. It’s a bagel! I lived in Boston for four years. Bagels were good, but worth lining up early on a Saturday morning? When I pulled the B’s bagel from the brown bag, it was warm. Point for B’s. My raisin and cinnamon bagel didn’t feel like a rock. It reminded me of fresh homemade bread but with the appropriate hard bagel crust. My first bite was a carbohydrate slice of heaven, the perfect mixture of fresh chewy soft dough, accented by sweet raisins and plain cream cheese. Okay, I get it. I’m eating bagel number 2 as I write. I guess I won’t shame my husband for putting bagels before the puppy walk on Saturday mornings.