Bagels on Broadway marks decade of feeding Missoula
A bagel shop that's become a downtown Missoula staple just marked its 10th birthday, and its owner says the quality of its products and the loyalty of its customers have been its ingredients for success.
"Bagels on Broadway is a site and a product that's recognized all across the state," said Sue Thompson, the owner of the business, which opened in December 1993.
Located across the street from the Missoula County Courthouse, Bagels on Broadway was Missoula's inaugural bagel shop.
A physical therapist by trade, Thompson said the timing just seemed right a decade ago to open a shop that sold a New York-style bagel and downtown was the perfect site.
"The downtown is what makes Missoula unique. I know people have heard that before, but it's so true," she said. "It is a vibrant, busy place with a nice conglomeration of all kinds of people."
One key to success was location: The 4,400-square-foot location where Bagels now is years ago was occupied by a car dealership. The location was crucial to both be able to serve downtown customers but also be visible enough to be found by passersby.
With the size of the leased space, there's plenty of room for privacy, intimacy or group gatherings.
"We like it to be a hangout spot for people," she said. "Our floor space is big enough that you can do that."
Customers have responded to the hospitality.
"It's just been fun," said Thompson. Some customers, she said, have "become good friends with me and they've become good friends with each other.
"We like to think of it as a family-friendly place for people where all generations can come and feel welcome," she said. "Obviously we're not a fancy place, that's not our style. I think our casualness fits Missoula well."
And there's just something about bagels that attracts a variety of customers.
"I think what's really turned out to be nice about this is that it appeals to every generation. The demographics are very inclusive," said Thompson.
But opening such a business - without any baking experience - brought its share of challenges.
Sean Thompson, Sue's son who at the time was just out of high school, attended a 1 1/2-day session to learn the art of making bagels, then returned to the shop to train everybody else.
He stayed on for the better part of 10 years training bakers and helping to run the business. He put himself through the University of Montana School of Business Administration in the process. He's since moved to another job.
"I'd never done anything in restaurant work before then," said Sean Thompson. "It was a great learning experience."
His mom said Sean was a quick study.
"His first batch was perfect and they've been good every since," she said. "We have people who come in from New York that say our bagels are better than New York City, the gold standard" for bagels.
The 5-ounce bagels are made from scratch from the business's own recipes, many of which have been fashioned by employees.
"Some of our employees have come up with the best bagel and cream-cheese recipes over the years and they've withstood the test of time," said Thompson. "I'm forever grateful. They're wonderful recipes that you won't find anywhere else."
Making such a bagel in Missoula, with its altitude and lack of humidity, is by no means an easy proposition.
"I had to learn a lot about the chemistry of baking," said Thompson. "You don't just take a New York recipe and bring it to Montana."
Bagels at the business are boiled before they're baked. That keeps the product crisp on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. The process takes at least 24 hours.
"To be made as such takes a lot of work," said Thompson. "It's very labor and time intensive. I think that's what makes it unique."
The expensive high protein and high-gluten flour that's used also is unique to their shop, said Thompson.
"Our bagel is more expensive than the one you can get at the grocery store and we're not competing with that product," she said. "Ours is a true bagel."
But it's also cholesterol free, low in fat, high in nutrients as well as protein, low in sodium and free of preservatives and additives.
"It's a higher protein than most bread," said Thompson. "It's like everything else - if you eat it in moderation, it's good for you."
While a plain bagel with plain cream cheese remains the top seller, the Asiago, made from an Italian goat cheese like parmesan and with just three grams of fat, is catching on.
"People love that bagel," she said.
Another popular item that has increased revenue substantially is the breakfast bagel, which is sold all day.
"We sell oodles and oodles of those," said Thompson. "Those will keep you full a half day. It's the cheapest and most filling breakfast in town."
Sean Thompson note that that's true of most of the bagel products.
"I don't think people know how filling one is," he said.
The menu at Bagels also features items that don't include, well, bagels. Homemade soup always is available, as are 24 different sandwiches, salads, desserts and a variety of drinks including espresso.
"Our food lends itself to active people," said Thompson. "It's a convenient food for active people. It's very versatile."
There are no plans to franchise the business - although Thompson wouldn't rule that out for some time in the future.
"It's a fun product to serve," she said. "It makes me feel happy. We're here for the long haul. We want to be a Missoula institution."
Reporter Mick Holien can be reached at 523-5262 or at email@example.com.