“If you were to ask any of my friends from high school what my most used word was, and is, they would say bagel,” Roni Malek says as he preps a pile of dough large enough to yield about 450 bagels. “I’ve done reports on bagels, the history of bagels how they got to the states, I’m just fascinated with bagels.”
Roni Malek is the owner of Balsam Bagels, what he considers to be the Cheers of the North Winton Village neighborhood. Looking around at the packed café and smiling faces chatting with one another, it’s hard to disagree. As we’re talking to Roni, a 3-year-old peeks into the kitchen with Rebecca Malek, Roni’s wife, to say hello and to watch the bagels getting made. It’s apparent this 3-year-old been there before when her Mom notes that they’re heading off to a beach vacation later that day, and perhaps they could try to find a bagel shaped seashell to bring back as a gift.
In 1977 Roni’s parents bought Carol Lee Pastry Shop and turned it into Malek’s Bakery. They made over 300 different sweets and bread items, however only one of those items was a bagel (a boiled egg bagel, to be exact). Malek was 14 at the time and he was learning a lot about baking. However, he found baking labor intensive.
As fate would have it, one day, when the bakery ran out of yeast, Roni and his father went to borrow some from another local baker. He found himself in awe of their much larger bagel production. This trip sealed the bagel-deal for him.
Malek branched out on his own, first without a storefront. He ran his bakery out of the old Spaghetti Warehouse downtown. At the time, he had about 200 accounts that he was providing bagels to. It wasn’t until 2004 that he opened his storefront on Winton Rd. with the help of an SBA loan.
Since that time, not only has the number of accounts he has grown (Balsam Bagels are now carried as far away as Geneseo), but the kinds of items they provide within the café has grown as well. A huge supporter of vegetarian and vegan items, Rebecca makes a variety of items in-house including: Tofutti-based cream cheeses, soups, quiche, muffins and their newest item, the quiche bagel.
So what makes a Balsam Bagel so special? Roni says what sets them apart is their high-quality ingredients, their double-sided seeded bagels, and their willingness to try unique bagel flavors. We might argue that it is Roni himself. It is clear from talking to him that he loves what he does, right down to the science of it.
Good news! All March long, we’re celebrating delicious Balsam Bagels here at Hart’s with a special deal- every Monday and Tuesday, buy a bagel and get a 20oz coffee for FREE.