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Eat STL: Lefty’s Bagels

| Producer

Photo courtesy of Doug Goldenberg

In many ways, food is more than just sustenance. It inspires conversations, holds cultural importance, and tells the chef’s story. Student Life Producer Emily Talkow presents Eat STL, a series that profiles chefs in the St. Louis community. In this episode, Talkow talks with Doug Goldenberg of Lefty’s Bagels to explore how a pair of brother-in-laws pivoted their career paths to a New York-style bagel shop. The best part: Lefty’s Bagels are now served on campus seven days a week at Cafe Bergson, Bears Den, The Village, and Cherry Tree. 

You can listen to episodes of Eat STL on Spotify or Apple Music.

This transcript has been edited slightly for clarity.

Doug Goldenberg (0:00-0:16): You know, New York bagels, you know, have their following and New York bagels are fantastic bagels. And to have people that live in that area come to St. Louis, that’s the highlight of my days. 

Music interlude

Emily Talkow (0:18-0:40): Hi, I’m Emily Talkow and you’re listening to Eat St. Louis. As a New Jersey native who misses bagels from back home, this episode has a special place in my heart. I got to talk with Doug Goldenberg, who you just heard speak about how he and Scott, his brother-in-law, opened up a bagel delicacy in St. Louis. Stay tuned to learn more about how Doug transformed a burnt out experience in IT into a booming bagel business. 

Music interlude

DG (0:42-1:11): Our story predates COVID actually where Scott started baking in his home kitchen when an Einstein Bagels not far from his home closed and he decided he was going to start baking. He had a full time IT job, as did I, and he tipped his hand making a lot of bagels at home and finally had something family would eat and that he, you know, thought that was good enough for others to taste. 

ET (1:11-1:29): So then March of 2020, COVID shut down in person work. This gave Scott more time to perfect his bagel recipe to the point where his bagel obsession led him to find the Baker’s Hub, a co-op now called Trolley Stop Bakery. Quick side note: check out Trolley Stop Bakery’s feature article from a year ago on Student Life Newspaper’s website.

DG (1:29-1:52): He looked into it and saw that there was a fairly easy commitment of getting in there and start making some bagels. He asked me what my thoughts were. I told him that he was crazy if he thought he was going to do it by himself because there’s just not going to be enough time. You’re going to need more, more manpower. So I decided I was going to go in with him and help make some bagels. 

ET (1:52-2:02): They started making bagels in the storefront just for fun at the beginning. Their goal was to prove 3 concepts: The first was to adapt a home recipe into a commercial kitchen.

DG (2:02-2:26): The second concept was can we make a dozen, dozen bagels and sell them? And the third was, can we make a dozen, dozen bagels and sell them to repeat customers? Within a very short amount of time, essentially within three weeks, we had a lot of people lining up before we’d open our doors as much as an hour before we’d open the doors. And we typically sell out our allotment of bagels in 45 minutes to an hour. 

ET (2:26-2:28): Doug and Scott kept increasing their quantities. 

DG (2:28-2:45): But the time in which they sold out still stayed the same. So we could never keep up with the demand. There was what we believed to be an infinite demand at the time. The bagels are gone before we, like, blinked an eye, and we’re like, we knew something, something was right.  

ET (2:45-2:51): As Doug and Scott continued to perfect the recipes and quantities to meet the demand, they also worked on their dynamic together. 

DG (2:51-3:13): We kind of realized how we needed to work with each other, we both have our strengths and weaknesses. We had to recognize that with each other. And once we did, it was like, you stay in that swim lane, I’ll stay in my swim lane, and we’re both accomplishing what we need to do and we’ve got this awesome thing at the end.

ET (3:13-3:35): I mentioned earlier that I am from New Jersey. But, I didn’t mention that I can be a bit of a self-declared bagel snob. Moving out of Jersey, I held a strong belief that no bagels could compare to the ones back home. I talked to Doug about people, who like me, come into Lefty’s with this same assumption. I asked him, how often do you have bagel snobs like me coming in and kind of telling you what a real bagel is?

DG (3:35-3:53): It’s actually more often than you would believe. I would probably have to err on the side of, if not every day, many times per week. I take it as a high compliment. It’s really somebody coming in and saying, I feel like I’m home, I feel like this is a piece of my, you know, growing up. 

ET (3:53-4:00): You might recognize the name Lefty’s Bagels from around campus. Starting this year, Doug and Scott’s bagels are served on campus!

DG (4:00-4:35): We are fortunate enough to have been able to partner with Washington University and are providing our bagels in Cafe Bergson, Bears Den, the Village, and Cherry Tree. You should be able to find bagels every day, seven days a week. Starr Murphy, who is the head pastry chef in the kitchen, found out about us – I’m not exactly sure how, made a phone call and I went out, met with her and all the other executive chefs on campus, brought my bagels, and brought cream cheese. They fell in love with it instantaneously. Here we are now providing bagels every day. 

ET (4:35-4:43): Landing such a big account I’m sure brought both feelings of excitement and nerves. I asked Doug about his initial reaction to selling bagels at WashU. 

DG (4:43-5:29):  The first one was fantastic. I just landed a really big account. I can’t wait for this. It’s such exciting news. And then there was the “oh crap” moment of how are we going to deliver, physically deliver the bagels from our shop to WashU and the logistics around now becoming a trucking company instead of a bagel company and how are we going to handle all the bagel deliveries? And so there was a lot of anxiety around the logistics piece. And then it turned into just really wondering how much we were going to need to provide to WashU. And then the first order came in and we were like, “Jackpot!” You know, we were like, this is going to be fantastic. We can absolutely deliver on this.

Music interlude

ET (5:32-5:54): If you’re craving that bacon, egg, and cheese – or pork roll if you’re from South Jersey – you can fill that need thanks to Lefty’s Bagels. Be sure to check out Lefty’s at any of the four dining locations on campus mentioned here and stop by Lefty’s Bagels in Chesterfield. Stay tuned for future episodes of Eat St. Louis. In the meantime, head to studlife.com to check out our current issue and other recent stories. For Student Life Media, I’m Emily Talkow.

Music rights reserved for Kevin MacLeod

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