Over the weekend, two Highland Park shops were dragged into an online conflict over some strong opinions about bagels. It started when Mashed interviewed Bagel and Slice owner Bradford Kent as he attempted to answer the question, “What makes a perfect bagel?” But a nearby bagel shop, Belle’s Bagels, inadvertently entered the fray after several people shared that story with the headline “Brad Kent Explains How To Tell If You’re Eating A True Bagel.” The headline has since been changed to “Brad Kent Explains How to Tell If You’re Eating a Traditional Bagel.”
In the piece, Kent uses his decade-long research with bagels and pizza dough — he also owns Olio Pizza in Grand Central Market and is a co-founder of Blaze Pizza — to characterize his idea of a perfect bagel and comment on bagel manufacturing as a whole; in particular, Kent seems to suggest that the seeding of both sides of a bagel is an indication that it wasn’t baked on a burlap-wrapped board, and instead on parchment-lined sheet pans. He tells Eater, however, that he had no intention of pointing a finger at other businesses.
It’s unclear whether social media users or Belle’s first stoked the flames of discontent at Kent’s hot takes, but Belle’s, located just a third of a mile away from Bagel and Slice, took to its own Instagram to call out Kent for his opinions on traditional bagel-making. Belle’s shared screenshots of responses from other bagel shops that defended their techniques while supporters gathered in the comments, saying things like, “I love all the seeds on both sides.” Not surprisingly, Belle’s sold out of bagels over the weekend.
For background, Belle’s Bagels has been operating out of Highland Park on York Boulevard since 2016. This year, Belle’s moved into a larger location at the former Cote Est, and will eventually convert its walk-up operation into a sit-down deli in 2022. They’ve built a solid following, resulting in consistent lines. Meanwhile, Bagel and Slice has been in development for over two years, with plans to finally open in the next few weeks serving bagels and pizza by the slice.
For online critics, one of the biggest points of contention in the original story — the piece was amended following the backlash — is a line where Kent purportedly suggests that the seeding of tops and bottoms might be a tell-tale sign of a “phony” bagel. In the story, he is quoted as saying that this visual marker is “a really good indication that something might be fishy.” Eater reached out to Gerrard to understand the changes made to the article (here’s an excerpt of an earlier version) but has not heard back.
In an emailed statement to Eater, Belle’s Bagels owner Nick Schreiber said, “All we can really say about the Bagel and Slice Mashed article was that it was the catalyst of something wonderful. A reminder to all of us ma’ and pa’ bagel shops across the country that it’s about what we do, not how we do it. You don’t need the best oven, the nicest flours, or strict adherence to traditional standards to make a beautiful bagel. The amount of support we felt from bagel shops (big and small) nationwide and patrons was staggering and unexpected but it’s nice to know that we as a community stand united together.”
When reached for comment, Kent said he was stunned by the story and its resulting backlash. “I’m a food scientist and a chef with training in both,” says Kent. “I approach things scientifically and historically. When describing my perfect bagel experience, I went into details of that journey. And that journey included looking at the history.” Kent’s hot takes were intended to express his views about proper bagel making, but they also felt like shots at lesser financed shops that might lack the resources or equipment to make “traditional” bagels.
According to Kent, he didn’t mention Belle’s or any other LA bagel business, though he did say in the article that a number of bagel shops in Los Angeles make them in an untraditional way. He considers Bagel and Slice a “mom-and-pop business” and says he went through a considerable vetting process to lease the space. Kent has not reached out to Belle’s because he has no problems with the neighboring bagel shop. “I’m not here to fight any wars,” says Kent. “What I’m here to do is make the community stronger and better.”