Back when the financial crisis hit, and financial services employees started getting laid off en masse, a lot of people took the opportunity to look in the mirror and ask themselves, “What do I really want to do with my time? Do I even like working on Wall Street?” More often than not, the answer was no. As it turned out, they’d been suppressing their true dreams all along, and now that working in finance was no longer an option, they finally found the courage to say, “What I really want to do is bake cupcakes. Butch ones.” Or, “What I really want to do is sell Greek food.” Or wedding cakes. Or dog jewelry. Deep down inside they’d known it all along but they’d just needed that extra little push that comes with being told to clean out your desk and leave.
Married couple Nick and Elyse Oleksak, he of GFI Group, she of Morgan Stanley,* didn’t have the luxury of unemployment to push them to pursue their dreams. What they did have was a passion. A passion for bagels. And a middle-of-the-night epiphany that changed everything.
The Oleksaks, who have been married for two years as of this July, met as undergraduates at Columbia University. They both played division one varsity sports: he played baseball; she played lacrosse. But they also have a shared interest when it comes to food. “And we’re always trying to think of ways to do more things with food,” said Mr. Oleksak. Like many flashes of genius, his came in the middle of the night. “I woke up in bed a year ago, and I thought, Why don’t we fill bagel holes with all kinds of fillings?” recalled Mr. Oleksak. “I thought, That’s the next big thing. Usually ideas I have like that die with Elyse saying, ‘No, it isn’t.’” “We hadn’t even ever made bread before,” said Ms. Oleksak. “But I thought it was an amazing idea. We love bagels and, as soon as I heard about it, I wanted to eat it.” So the Oleksaks took to their kitchen in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and started baking. “People went crazy for them,” said Ms. Oleksak. “We said, ‘Let’s do this. Let’s make a business of this.’”
Enter: The Bagel Roadshow.
Having a Wall Street background gave the Oleksaks a sense of how to start a business. “The most important step is the capital raise,” said Mr. Oleksak. So they put themselves on a “mini roadshow,” his wife recalled. “And it really caught on. We were able to convert the believers into investors.”
The shop, Bantam Bagels, opens later this month on Bleecker Street. There you’ll find “dessert flavors” and “late-night flavors” and everything in between (“Boxed Lunch” is filled with peanut butter and jelly; “Weekend Brunch” consists of red onions, lox, and tomato cream cheese). According to Elyse, these things are great for the bagel lover who doesn’t want to feel like a fat ass. But they also present an obvious (food eating) challenge.
About four Bantams are the equivalent of one bagel, which Mr. Oleksak said represents a cultural and foodie “movement towards the small. You don’t have to feel guilty about eating this huge bagel.” That said, the most Bantams the couple have thus far seen an individual eat in one sitting is 16.
The gauntlet has been thrown down.
Filling A Hole In New York’s Bagel World [WSJ]
*Until recently, when she quit to devote herself to bagels full time.