WESTPORT, CT — For Adam Goldberg, what began as a pandemic-induced bagel-baking spree turned into a popup sensation in the Northeast.
The owner of PopUpBagels had no baking experience prior to the lockdown working as a flood mitigation systems seller. Like many others during the COVID-19 pandemic, Goldberg took to baking sourdough bread among other baked goods to pass the time and eventually fell in love with the craft.
“We used a whole bunch of flour that we had lying around the house and concocted some bagels,” Goldberg said. “We realized that the bagels we had been making were so much better than what was available at a storefront.”
Experimenting with different recipes over the span of three days led Goldberg to find the right mix of ingredients to create what he calls the perfect bagel.
“We call it a chew in the crust with no lead in the belly,” Goldberg explained of the product’s texture. “We’ve created a bagel that we think has a great chew, but when you’re done eating it you don’t feel like you need a nap. Your initial reaction is ‘I want another one.’”
Goldberg acquired a cottage license in late 2020, and his bagel business grew rapidly, to the point where he received a call from the state of Connecticut congratulating the business for its sales — which hit the legal sales amount allotted for cottage licenses in one year in the span of one month.
As the bagel operation grew, Goldberg and his young crew began to adapt, expanding from hand-kneading dozens of bagels to using larger mixers made to handle higher volumes.
Currently, PopUpBagels has six locations in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut — two permanent and four pop-ups — with more on the way. Goldberg is still working his full-time job, though PopUpBagels has turned into a full-time gig as well.
“We currently have two permanent locations that we only sell in advance for pickup and are only open three days a week, but we’re in the process of doing popups in three additional locations and building out two additional storefronts,” Goldberg shared.
The bagels are exclusively sold by the dozen in advance and baked to order, served fresh from the oven for a customer’s designated time slot.
“Similar to a great pizzeria that won’t sell you a slice, we’re not willing to sell you one bagel. We want to,” Goldberg said.
Innovation takes form in many ways throughout retail baking, and while the PopUpBagels formula stands out, the bakery teams sticks to classic bagel flavors to make the experience more traditional: plain, salt, sesame, salted poppy and everything.
“We do an occasional cinnamon raisin bagel, but we find those to be controversial, so we stay away from them,” Goldberg said.
While the plain bagels remain popular among the younger crowd, the salt bagels are “really superiorly loved” by PopUpBagels fans. They are sprinkled with pyramid-shaped flaky salt right before they go in the oven. The flakes melt into the dough and impart a salty experience similar to a pretzel.
“I think salt bagels these days have gotten either too salty, too rocky or nonexistent,” Goldberg said, “and our salt bagel tends to hit home with a lot of people.”
Though the bagel flavors are set, the bagel team flexes its creativity with the schmear and toppings. From spinach and artichoke cream cheese to chimichurri butter, the brand offers a rotating array of flavors offering consumers new experiences week in and week out alongside more traditional toppings like lox and plain cream cheese.
Over the next two years, the bakery is set for growth regionally and nationally. As Goldberg’s pandemic project evolves into a powerhouse bakery operation with back-to-back wins as the Best Bagel in the Brooklyn Bagelfest and press mentions in publications like The New York Times, the businessman-turned-bagel maker’s spark for baking remains rooted in bringing joy to people.
“I figured out a product that I could make that made people really happy, and the happier people were around me, the more fun it was to keep baking,” he shared. “I’ve always loved entertaining and cooking, but I’ve never really had a knack for baking. When I put this bagel recipe together and people started eating it, they just wanted more and they kept smiling more, and I just loved how happy it made people.”