Fishtown Bagelry Duo Lives in the Schmear and Now

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A new bagelry in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia is offering up Philly Style Bagels.

Pizzeria Beddia in Fishtown is normally known for making pizza — in fact, according to Bon Appetit magazine, the tiny take-out only shop makes the best pizza in the United States — but on Sunday mornings, the smell of melting mozzarella and caramelizing tomatoes is replaced by the unmistakable aroma of fresh-baked bagels filling the air.
For a year and a half, Fishtown residents Collin Shapiro and Jonathon Zilber have operated a pop-up bagel shop out of Pizzeria Beddia, becoming a hot and fresh commodity in their own right, as bagel aficionados from around the city have flocked to Fishtown for their Philly-centric take on the Eastern European classic.
What makes Philly Style Bagels — the name of their operation as well as a fair description of their product — different from their more established counterparts in, say, New York or Montreal? Silber explained that while New York bagels are made with malt and Montreal bagelries incorporate honey into their recipes. Zilber and Shapiro make their versions with beer — a salute to the beer culture of the city, Zilber said.
“Philly is such a beer town,” Zilber said. “We both come from the beer industry and met while working in a beer store. This is kind of our homage to the city.”
Zilber, 28, studied in France in 2008, where his love for food grew. After graduating from the University of Michigan in 2009, he moved back to Philly with his family and worked at Garces Trading Company, where he made coffee.
In 2011, his path aligned with Shapiro, 26, when they worked together at Shot Tower Coffee in South Philly and the beer-focused Foodery in Northern Liberties. They quickly became friends through their shared love for food, coffee and people.
Zilber began to cure meat and fish at home, but in March 2013, he invented his most profitable one. After celebrating Purim on a Saturday night, Zilber and Shapiro wanted to make brunch for their friends. They decided to make bagels and Googled a recipe. They already had most of the ingredients in the house, but needed a malt to mix in with the batter. Instead of going to the store and purchasing something, they used the Yards Indian Pale Ale in their refrigerator.
They poured two bottles in the pot and boiled four bagels at a time. The bagels took two hours to cook, with the pair churning, poking and stretching the dough until it looked good.
“I didn’t really have any expectations,” Zilber said. “I figured they’d be good.
“The freshness of them was incredible. While they weren’t the best bagels that we have had by any means, they showed us what we could do if we focused on it.”
Once they saw that it was good, they began to meet once a week to figure out a recipe. When the quality of the bagels didn’t improve as fast as they wanted, they increased that to twice a week. That gave them one day to roll the dough and another to ferment it and get its flavor. Immediately, the bagels tasted better.
“Sometimes, you try as hard as you can and you succeed and it’s great,” Zilber said.
In the fall of 2013, they baked bagels for the Hidden City Festival, where their product proved so popular that numerous people asked where they could buy them. Having their own store at this point was not an option, so they asked Joe Beddia about using his eponymous shop on Sundays, when he was closed.
“We kind of just wanted to test the idea and see if people would be receptive to it,” Zilber said. “I think we had a sense the city was ready for it.”
In March 2014, with the help of their girlfriends, Desiree Casimiro and Ashley Horowitz, Philly Style Bagels opened in Beddia Pizzeria. They operated once a month for the first four months, but quickly increased that to bi-weekly and now three times a month.
Their day starts at 4 a.m., when they begin boiling 14 bagels in a small pot, with the capacity of making 50 an hour. Not having a large kettle and a bigger oven is a problem, Shapiro said, although Philadelphians, early adopters of the Slow Food movement, don’t seem to have a problem with waiting for the handcrafted goods.
“I think people are understanding because it’s a pop-up bagel shop,” Shapiro said.
Fishtown residents Josh McGrath, 24 and his girlfriend, Emily Lindauer, 23, are regular customers. Lindauer said they fell in love with it as soon as it opened.
“I’m always looking for a good bagel,” she said. “I had a few expectations based on other restaurants around here. I was really surprised.”
Matt, 23, a Pittsburgh native, moved to Fishtown a year ago and goes to Philly Style Bagels every week. Pittsburgh is known for putting fries on sandwiches, so finding a good bagel is a treat, he said.
His mother Robin, who was visiting from the Steel City, shared his sentiments.
“I think it’s a great concept,” she said. “I’d love to see it in Pittsburgh.”
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