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GR Bagel wants to show Grand Rapids that real bagels swim

Local bagel-masters René Pascal Kalter and Lisa Barhydt are gaining fans of their hand-rolled, boiled bagels.
Some bagels beginning the boiling process.

Some bagels beginning the boiling process. /Davis Dryer

René Pascal Kalter hand-rolling the bagel dough.

René Pascal Kalter hand-rolling the bagel dough. /Davis Dryer

Lisa Barhydt weighing out each portion of dough to 4 oz.

Lisa Barhydt weighing out each portion of dough to 4 oz. /Davis Dryer

Sunday morning is a late morning for René Pascal Kalter and Lisa Barhydt, the founders of GR BAGEL. On Sundays, they don’t have to get to their rental space at Uptown Kitchen until around 6 a.m. or so.

“Although, we were slow this morning and didn’t get here until 7,” René says laughing. Normally, they show up at Uptown Kitchen around 2 a.m. in order to fulfill and prepare their daily orders for their hand-rolled, boiled bagels. This morning, however, their order will only take a couple of hours to fill, and it isn’t expected until 10:45 a.m.

Kalter and Barhydt arrived in Michigan in the fall of 2012, moving from North Carolina in order to be closer to family. Drawn because of the growing buzz from the breweries around town, the local food scene and ArtPrize, they picked Grand Rapids as their new home.

“First thing we did was search for a bagel,” Kalter says. “We couldn’t find a water bagel. So when I can't find a real bagel I just make them at home.” After a few local bakery interviews in the Heritage Hill area didn’t pan out, Kalter and Barhydt began thinking of other options.

“For years, I’ve been thinking, ‘where can I bake my goods?’” Kalter says. Barhydt’s aunt then told them to look into incubator kitchens, which led to them forming a relationship with Uptown Kitchen. Now, 5 months later, GR BAGEL has picked up a local following and are now selling their bagels at various coffee bars, retail stores & farmers’ markets.

What makes their bagels so special is the process of making them and the ingredients, including organic flour. Barhydt and Kalter both grew up with an appreciation for bagels, with Barhydt growing up in Ann Arbor and Kalter growing up in Chicago. Great bagels were easily accessible in both cities.

The dough is mixed, then portioned by Barhydt into 4 oz. pieces. Barhydt and Kalter both hand roll the bagels into their round shapes. The bagels are then kettle boiled in a tea-colored mixture.

“Real bagels swim,” Kalter says with a grin, standing over the kettle full of bagels. After being boiled, the bagels are then topped. Some get sea salt and some get the “everything” mix. The cinnamon raisin bagels get the cinnamon sugar topping.

“There aren’t flavors of bagels,” Barhydt says. “There are varieties.” Current GR BAGEL varieties include plain, salt, everything, 7 grain honey wheat and cinnamon raisin. Tthe cinnamon raisin bagel is jokingly called the “gateway bagel” by Kalter and Barhydt because they say once you try it, you will try them all. After being baked, the bagels are then allowed to come to room temperature. Then they are boxed and set for delivery or off to the local farmers markets.

“Plastic does weird things to crusts,” Kalter says. When bagels are wrapped in plastic, moisture is trapped within the bag and the crust is destroyed, turning rubbery.

“Our bagels will never see the inside of a plastic bag unless it is headed to the freezer,” Kalter says. They sell their bagels in a brown bag for a reason. The brown bag lets the bagel breathe and won’t suffocate the crust. The chewy, dense inside can only be achieved by boiling the bagel.

Kalter and Barhydt are excited and heartened by the reception GR BAGEL has received. Whether it be at the Downtown Market, the Fulton Street Market, or at their various retail locations around town, people have become fans of their bagels.

“Things are rolling along faster than we really expected it to,” Kalter says. Both of them also speak of the overall community in Grand Rapids as a refreshing change from other cities.

“People here want you to succeed,” Kalter says. “See, we came from a city where everyone wants to see you fail. If you had a small business and put a sandwich sign out in front of your shop, the city sign enforcers would snatch it, put it in the back of their pickup truck and drive off.”

As GR BAGEL continues to grow, Kalter and Barhydt believe people will continue to enjoy their authentic hand-rolled water bagels.

“We’re going for the people that have a discerning taste for a real bagel,” says Kalter.

As more and more people experience GR BAGEL, the team is bringing higher volumes of their products to their various venders.

Every morning at 2 a.m., Kalter and Barhydt will continue to prepare their bagels, aiming to please the fans they already have, and looking to give more people a taste.

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