New Bagel Cafe fashions a tasty product into a thriving business

January 10, 1995|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

The Bagel Cafe is delivering New York City tastes to Eldersburg. Opened less than a month ago, the cafe has already become a habit for many customers.

"I always stop here after I drop my son off at school and I pick up a week's supply," said Kim Davis.

"The bagels here are really fresh and really big, not like the kind you get at the food store."

The dough is proofed in a bagel box, then transferred to a floor-to-ceiling oven.

The bagels are baked on a rotating rack at 540 degrees until they reach crusty perfection.

"Temperature and steam is how you make good bagels," said Habib M. Rahimi, owner and baker.

The aroma of fresh baking is drawing customers into the shop but the product is selling itself, especially to the health conscious, Mr. Rahimi said.

"Bagels have less than 1 gram of fat and no cholesterol," said Mr. Rahimi, who bakes bagels in batches of 216 several times a day.

The rack filled with 18 dozen bagels of different varieties goes into the oven for about 10 minutes at least six times a day weekends and nearly that often weekdays.

After his short stint as a baker, Mr. Rahimi is able to estimate fairly accurately how many bagels he needs to proof on one day for baking the next.

He ran out of several popular flavors Christmas Eve, but has been well-stocked since.

While he worked for 15 years as a manager in the 7-Eleven chain, Mr. Rahimi, 44, kept an eye out for his own business opportunity. He decided long ago that bagels would be his product line.

"I love bagels and used to get them from other places," he said. "I figured that I am not the only one who loves them and decided to open a bagel shop."

Space became available in Oklahoma Road Center at Liberty and Oklahoma roads, just minutes from his Eldersburg home. Mr. Rahimi signed the lease and set to work transforming the 1,100 square feet -- once a baseball card store -- into an authentic bagel shop.

"This is not franchised," he said. "I started it from scratch myself."

While renovating the shop and doing most of the construction himself, Mr. Rahimi worked for a month at America's Favorite Bagel Co., a Columbia factory, where he learned the secrets of creating bagels. Now, he can tell by touch when one is ready to go from the refrigerator to the proofing box and finally into the oven.

"Steam and moisture is what makes a bagel stay fresher longer," he said. "Humidity in the proofing box makes the bagels grow bigger."

To get a taste of what was in store for his business, he and his wife, Kim Rahimi, spent several days practicing behind the counter at the Bagel Chalet, a high-volume deli shop in New York.

"It was a very busy place with many employees and it stayed open every day of the year," Ms. Rahimi said.

"They baked constantly."

The Bagel Cafe opens its doors at 5:30 a.m. and rush hour is from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., when commuters are stopping on the way to work.

"I never knew we had so many New York and New Jersey people living in the area until I opened the shop," Mr. Rahimi said. "Many have told me they are glad they don't have to drive 10 miles to get a good bagel anymore."

Customers can chose from 13 varieties of bagels, as well as many spreads and toppings.

The cafe is open until 4 p.m. weekdays and from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekends.

For the lunch crowd, the Rahimis serve deli meats and salad sandwiches on bagels and plan to add homemade soups soon because "everybody loves homemade," Mr. Rahimi said.

Instead of offering high-cholesterol potato chips, the cafe serves day-old bagels sliced thin and rebaked.

"They are a light chip that you can serve with dips," Ms. Rahimi said.

In between bagel bakes, the oven turns out muffins and cookies.

"I already wish I had a bigger place," Mr. Rahimi said.

"I know I will make it. This is my home and this area is really growing.

"I love this town and I have a good, healthy product."

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