Melissa Elsmo

New Jersey native, bagel connoisseur and Oak Park resident, Amanda Daly, managed to created a bagel-frenzy in our community over the past year. Now her dream of opening a bagel cafe called The Daly Bagel is inching ever closer.

After recognizing a need for proper boil-and-bake, east coat bagels in our community, Daly (who is not a trained cook), started experimenting with bagel-making and ultimately introduced her product to customers via in-home bagel bakes and more formal bakery pop-up events. 

While her duo of  in-home bagel bakes were stressful and at a times “disastrous” from a time-management perspective, demand for Daly Bagels quickly exceeded supply. Daly forged ahead and promptly moved her bagel production to the Sugarbeet Schoolhouse in River Forest. 

The shared community kitchen offered Daly the opportunity to more than double her production capacity; taking her yield on her twice monthly bake days from 400 to 850 bagels per day. Additionally, the community kitchen allowed her to bake an additional 300-500 special order bagels each week.

Unfortunately, Daly had never set foot in a commercial kitchen before and realized quickly everything was different. The hot and humid kitchen caused her bagel dough to rise twice as quickly and she couldn’t cut and roll out the dough fast enough before it over-proofed. Over-proofed dough loses strength causing a lackluster rise in the finished product. To further complicate matters, the powerful commercial convection ovens cooked at a higher heat and forced Daly to adjust both baking time and temperature in her recipe.

“I had to figure everything out all over again,” laughs Daly,  “and I know those first bagels I made at Sugar Beet were not perfect, but everyone was so nice and supportive it didn’t seem to matter in the end.”

Over-time the perfectionist bagel-maker figured out how to navigate a professional kitchen and her product became pristine once again, but she was keeping an unrealistic schedule in order to get everything done. Outside of relying of help and support from her father-in-law and sister-in-law, Daly was flying solo. Starting her day at 3am, she oversaw every aspect of bagel production and handled all the administrative aspects of her rapidly rising business on her own. Initially, interested parties could request bagels on a Facebook page, but tracking specific orders became nearly impossible. Daly briefly shifted the pre-ordering process to a Google form, but her bagels would still sell out in under 5 minutes. 

“I had to set an alarm on my phone to remind me to have lunch;” admits Daly as she takes a sip of coffee, “I never understood people who claimed to be so busy that they forgot eat, but now I can totally relate!” 

While Daly remained good-humored, the stress of growing her bagel business started getting to her. Thankfully, a long-standing trip to France, provided her with an opportunity to unplug and unwind. Daly admits it was difficult to step away from the bagel business at such a pivotal time, but it turned out to be beneficial in the end. While on vacation with her family, Daly got some much needed perspective and finally acknowledged she couldn’t physically up the pace she had been before leaving for France. Upon returning from vacation, accepting help in the kitchen became Daly’s top priority.

Daly’s dear friend, Leah Garcia, offered up her services in the kitchen and she and Daly were soon joined by Adrienne Guldin, another friend of Daly’s. Guldin is an accomplished baker in her own right and has a background working in test kitchens

As a result of the added support and Guldin’s culinary background, The Daly Bagel, not only increased production, but began to innovate. New bagel flavors like gingerbread, garlic and herb, chai, and maple-bacon were added to the traditional arsenal of Daly Bagel flavors (plain, sesame, poppy, everything, sea salt, onion, garlic, pretzel, pumpernickel, asiago, cinnamon-sugar, kalamata-rosemary, and rainbow).

“Now, I just love going to work at 4am because I get to hang out with my friends making bagels,” says Daly, “it is the absolute best!”

Just as the new Daly Bagel crew was hitting their groove in a commercial kitchen, Tom and Sheila Kunkel of Urban Pioneer Group offered up their Forest Park event space to host Daly Bagel pop up events. As her bagels gained in popularity, Daly began offering them on a first-come-first serve basis to streamline production and administrative tasks. After the adjustment, it wasn’t uncommon for Daly to arrive at Urban Pioneer to discover bagel-lovers had already formed a line that snaked around the block at her twice monthly sales. 

“Tom and Sheila have been so kind and made us feel at home at Urban Pioneer,” says Daly, “and thanks to the success of these pop up events I know we are ready for this next big step.”

Daly has been engaged in the thoughtful process of finding a store for months. She wasn’t hunting for an enormous space, but sought a storefront with a large kitchen and modest seating area. 

“A shop has always been the goal,” says Daly “but I was shocked how hard it was to find the right sized space where a landlord was willing to have a kitchen on the premises.”

Thankfully, local developer, Greg Sorg reached out regarding the Zephyr building located on the corner of Chicago and Lombard in Northeast Oak Park. The space, owned by Sorg, is conveniently located close to Daly’s Oak Park home and suits her space needs well. Living in the area makes Daly acutely aware of the need for a boutique cafe in the north east corner of Oak Park and expects The Daly bagel to appeal to both community residents and folks frequenting the nearby school and hospital.

Daly had settled on a space for her bagel shop, but still needed a bank loan. She put her MBA to good use, tweaked her business plan and began looking for a bank. 

Forest Park Bank took a genuine interest in The Daly Bagel,” say Daly of her bank of choice, ” I felt supported the second I walked through the door.”

With a storefront found and a bank loan secured, Daly moved onto selecting an architect for her build out. After considering four architects, she confidently settled on working with Brian Hammersley of Hammersley Architecture in Chicago. Hammersley’s reputation preceded him, as his firm designed both Oak Park’s L!VE Cafe and Sugar Beet Food Co-Op. Daly indicated Hammersley’s vision for The Daly Bagel lined up perfectly with hers and he enthusiastically embraced the project.

The space in the Zephyr building will require a full build-out and Daly excitedly sketched a drawing of her intended layout. Her picture included banket seating, window ledge seating, and a large counter for placing orders and selecting bagels. She also drew generously sized cafe kitchen. While the kitchen will not need a stove top, it will include powerful ovens, large boiling pots, racks, proofing boards, and an industrial dough-divider; she has already begun purchasing her kitchen equipment. The kitchen will likely feature a large viewing window making is easy for curious customers to observe the bagel making process.

Barring any unforeseen set-backs, Daly anticipates her boutique bagel shop will open in summer of 2019. The shop will likely be opened from 6:30am to 4pm daily, but Daly and her team will rely on a soft opening to determine the optimal operating hours for the business.  In addition to offering bagels, smoked fish and cream cheese (of course), Daly intends to peddle an array breakfast and lunch sandwiches as well as bagel dogs and pizza bagels. The regular menu at the shop will be small and thoughtful, but supplemented with rotating weekly specials to keep things fresh and interesting for regular customers. The Daly Bagel will also bring responsibly-sourced Dark Matter Coffee to Oak Park. 

“I dream The Daly Bagel will preserve the social aspect of bakeries” says Daly with a sparkle in her eye, “I want it to be a beautiful place, a community asset, where people can bond over a shared food experience.”

Daly Bagels will still be available at Urban Pioneer pop up events and via special order while the storefront is completed. Visit The Daly Bagel on Facebook to stay in the loop.

“All of the chefs and students at River Forest Kitchen and Sugar Beet Schoolhouse have loved watching Amanda grow from a newbie business owner to a thriving bagel maven. In a short time she has built an amazing following and she can count me as one of her biggest fans. Fortunately for me her shop is opening in my neighborhood and I will visit often!” — Cheryl Muñoz, Executive Director/ Founder Sugar Beet Schoolhouse

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