Oak Parker building a better bagel

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By Melissa Elsmo

Food Writer

After majoring in Middle East Studies and Arabic language in college, Amanda Daly became a foreign-service officer. She proudly completed two tours as a diplomat in Bahrain and Kuwait with her trailing spouse, but Daly's priorities changed when she became a mother.

Advancement depended on completing a year-long, unaccompanied, war-zone tour and she could not comprehend leaving her young son and husband behind. She shifted her career out of government service in favor of getting her MBA and focusing on her growing family. The Daly family settled in Oak Park nine years ago.

Over the years, Daly put her adaptability and business savvy to use when assessing general needs in the Oak Park area. Throughout her years living in Oak Park she's anticipated a number of small business successes.

"I would say out loud over-and-over, 'Oak Park needs a blah-blah,'" laughs Daly, "and without fail that blah-blah would open a few months later and be a huge success."

This happened so many times that Daly eventually tasked her husband and three children to hold her accountable. Daly instructed them to tell her to open the next blah-blah she mentioned herself.

Next up? Bagels.

Daly's eldest son proved to be a picky eater. He loved carbs in every form and most especially craved sesame bagels for lunch. Daley became a regular at Bruegger's Bagels, and when the shop closed she realized there was a dearth of proper bagels in the Oak Park area.

To compensate, Daly began making her own at home to satisfy her bagel-loving son.

Daly is a New Jersey native and no stranger to quality East Coast style bagels. There were at least three independent, mom-and-pop bagel shops in her hometown and bagels were a big part of her childhood.

As a swimmer, Daly made use of fast energy producing carbs by snacking on bagels before a big meet. She had exposure to the best of bagels as a child and had a solid knowledge of what she was trying to replicate for her son, but her newfound hobby quickly morphed into a passion.

Daly, who admits to being unable to do anything halfway, started by making three dozen bagels every couple of days for two months. She was churning out more than 100 bagels per week and asking her family members to blind taste-test them. She began keeping a notebook, tracking her recipes and ideas. The cover of the notebook sports a bagel doodle created by one of her children.

 "I just wanted to get it right," says Daly, "I always ask myself, 'Is this my best bagel?'"

A sub-par bagel is nothing more than glorified bread and Daly tells the difference between a true East Coast style boil-and-bake bagel and lesser versions with ease. Even bagels cooked by steam injection lack the glossy sheen, chewy texture and elasticity that a dunk into boiling water brings to a bagel.

Daly acknowledges some East Coast folks will insist their bagels are top-notch because of the water in the area, but she believes water in Chicago is more than suitable for bagel making.

"Sure, ingredients matter," says Daly, "but care, method and patience are key ingredients in any successful bagel recipe."

In true East Coast fashion Daly slow-proofs her dough in the refrigerator for 24 hours before boiling, topping and baking them to a chewy golden brown. Despite being self-critical, her bagels were getting pretty close to perfect when she gave batch to a group of parents at St. Giles School.

Word-of-mouth interest grew in Daly's bagel making until one day she uttered the words, "Oak Park needs a boutique bagel shop." All three of her children looked right at her and told her she needed to open a bagel shop. A bagel shop was Daly's next blah-blah.

True to her word, The Daly Bagel was born in that instant.

Daly reached out the Village of Oak Park Business Services to learn how to go about opening a bagel shop. In the meantime, relying on cottage/home kitchen laws allowed Daly to open a Facebook group and offer her East Coast bagels via pre-order to friends, family and other interested parties a couple times per month.

Daly calculated her capacity in advance of offering her first bagels for sale on Mother's Day weekend. She knew she could hold 300 bagels in her two refrigerators. She opened sales and had orders for 330 bagels within 48 hours.

She shut her pre-order sales down and prepared to get baking to meet demand for her product. But the business of baking bagels in bulk tuned out to be tougher than she thought.

"I learned so many things in that first batch," says Daly, "because everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong."

Daly offered her second bagel sale for pickup on Memorial Day weekend and her first-come-first-served bagels sold out in under 30 minutes. She has worked out the kinks and streamlined her production to ensure things would be less stressful the second time around.

Her next step is likely in a shared commercial kitchen, but Daly is actively engaged in the process of finding a small, permanent Oak Park location to house The Daly Bagel. She envisions her bagel boutique will sell and wide array of bagels and specialty blend cream cheeses in addition to breakfast and lunch bagel sandwiches and even her beloved bagel dogs.

In the meantime you can find The Daly Bagel Facebook group for your chance to order for Father's Day (you'll have to act fast after she opens the sale) and to keep yourself updated on Daly's progress toward opening the bagel boutique that started out as nothing more than a blah-blah.

Email: melissa@oakparkeats.com

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Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: June 10th, 2018 11:48 AM

If you build it, they will come.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: June 8th, 2018 9:42 PM

Yeah I grew up in the Capitol of Bagelry: NYC. And you're right Bruegger's was one of the few authentic local bagel places. Because as you point out the key to the true authentic NYC bagel is boiling prior to baking; which a lot of faux bagel shops avoid. So I am thrilled you will be following hallowed tradition and in true east coast fashion bake an authentic, real bagel. Quite frankly I am tired of all these pretenders, baking low quality imitation bagels, that populate the Chicago landscape. I can hardly wait!

David Gulbransen  

Posted: June 8th, 2018 9:41 PM

The problem with The Onion Roll is that they often go stale. It's really hit or miss, maybe depending on when they get their delivery? It's absolutely not a substitute for a real bagel place, baking them fresh on-site daily.

Todd Williamson  

Posted: June 8th, 2018 8:44 PM

I want Oak Park bagels. Lincolnwood bagels are trash...

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: May 31st, 2018 9:01 PM

I can't wait. Good luck.

David Gullo from Oak Park  

Posted: May 31st, 2018 5:24 PM

I think this is a great idea! BTW: Oak Park does have a pretty good bagel place: The Onion Roll on North Ave. They serve bagels from highly regarded New York Bagel & Bialys from Lincolnwood.

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