Meet the local bakers serving up these carb-laden beauties
Photography by Breezy Lucia
I moved to Memphis from Brooklyn, New York—the world’s undisputed epicenter of bagels. In Brooklyn, there are bagel options at every deli on your block, no doubt. You’ll find levels—tiers—to them, of course, but it’s hard to have a bad one, unless your bodega man is shorting you. New York is home to the notorious, irreplicable tap water spawned for bagel boiling. Bagels are in the blood and in the streets the same way barbecue and blues are here.
When I moved to Memphis, the last thing on my mind was finding a good bagel—sort of like how you’d never go to Rome in search of the world’s best taco.
But I like being wrong—it’s often how the best things in life are discovered. And wrong I was about bagels in Memphis. We’ve got the water here too, and there’s no doubt about its taste; it’s sweet, low in minerals, and purer than any tap I’ve ever known in the States.
To see what else I—and maybe even you—was missing, I talked to a few local bakers who take pride in their bagels. I took a lot of notes, ate a lot of carbs, and found out that I don’t need to go back up North to find a damn good bagel when there are plenty right here at home. Next time you’re looking for some chewy carbs to accompany your coffee, you can’t go wrong with any of these options.
Originally from New Jersey, Dave Scott taught himself how to make bagels while living in Portland, Oregon. When he moved to Memphis in 2016, a dissatisfaction with the bagel options in town led him to put his baking skills to work.
Dave started selling bagels at Saturday pop-ups at Curb Market (when it was on Cooper). After some local press, his small-time bagel business began to snowball. “I invested in a bagel machine about six months into starting the business,” he says. “It was either that or carpal tunnel.”
Ultimately, he decided that wholesale was the most lucrative business option for his venture. Now you can find his bagels all over the Mid-South, from Cordelia’s Market on Harbor Town to Coffee Central Squared in Hernando, Mississippi. You’ll often find Dave himself selling bagels on Saturdays at the Cooper-Young Community Farmers Market or the Memphis Farmers Market downtown.
Dave mixes all the traditional toppings into the dough. “So you get all of the flavor with none of the mess. It’s what’s on the inside that counts anyway, right?” he jokes.
Dave’s bagels are found in the frozen section of the markets he purveys—I get mine from The Curb Market in Crosstown Concourse. The instructions on the bag are simple: Thaw and enjoy. The bagels are smaller than you’d expect, but with a quality you wouldn’t expect from frozen bagels either. Flavors include plain, jalapeño cheddar, Cajun, and many more. They’re chewy and fluffy, and beautifully textured when toasted. My plug? Get a bag of jalapeño and cheddar with a jar of Duke’s mayo and some nice Dijon, lettuce, red onion, and cold cuts. Toast one and go to town. You can keep ‘em frozen, but I don’t have the willpower to do so.
If you want someone else to do the work for you, pop over to French Truck at Crosstown, where Dave’s Bagels are on the menu.
Dave plans to rebrand Dave’s Bagels as Breadville this summer to make way for regional distribution in Kroger stores.
“I’ve spent years refining traditional recipes and methods to be able to produce top-quality products at a mass scale,” he says.
Josh Steiner is a Memphis native whose culinary career has taken him around town, through restaurants like The Beauty Shop, and to the world at large. He got his chops baking in Italy, including Sicily, before coming back home to open his first restaurant, Strano, when he was 24. The scratch-made Sicilian concept took off and thrived until the pandemic, during which he had a daughter and closed his kitchen for good. A baker at heart, Josh took to San Francisco and New York to enrich his breadmaking skills before once again returning to Memphis to embark on his current venture: Hive.
Working out of what was once Restaurant Iris’s catering kitchen on Cooper Street, Josh mills his own red rye flour from wheat he sources directly from local farmers. In doing so, he’s able to know the exact batch ash content of the flour he’s putting in his bagels. But what makes Hive’s bagels so special is what’s beyond the flour and water, and what gives this project its name.
“I’ve been a beekeeper for the past 10 years or so,” Josh says. “My wife and I name each Hive based on the queen and their personality—Beyoncé, Margarita, Twinkie. Each Hive has its own honey—a different color and texture and flavor.”
Josh boils each of his bagels in water steeped with the honey he produces at his family’s apiary.
This gives the dough a formidable caramelization and chew that wouldn’t be possible otherwise—not to mention added allergy protection from local pollen.
Josh’s bagels don’t miss. They’re generous in size, as, in my opinion, a bagel should be. They’re fluffy and thick, with a satisfyingly chewy exterior enveloping an airy crumb that can happily stand up to any artisan bagel you’d find in New York. Cut one open and enjoy toasted or not with some of Hive’s hand-mixed cream cheese. Josh’s bagels are perfectly seasoned and boldly flavored, from their everything bagel to their plain. He’s also got some limited edition runs—such as the pretzel bagel—from week to week.
For now, Hive’s offerings are available for pre-order pickup every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. You can also find his bagels at JoJo’s Espresso and Comeback Coffee, for your coffee pairing pleasure.
Josh is aiming to open a brick-and-mortar location downtown in the near future.
62 Cooper Street
Blanchard’s Organic Breads
There’s a little cart that sits outside of Joe’s Wines and Liquor on Poplar in Midtown on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings (and if you’re lucky you’ll run across it at various spots around town on other days). The owner is none other than Danny Blanchard, a back-of-house and front-of-house veteran for the better part of 20 years. He came to Memphis by way of Portland, and in 2020 decided that he was done serving other chefs’ products to his customers.
“I just wanted to give them something new—something they can’t find anywhere else,” Danny says. “I’ve lived in a lot of big cities, but Memphis has always lacked in the savory bakery scene.” Danny wanted to give his Memphis customers what he hadn’t been able to find in his new city.
In his kitchen at home, Danny hand-mixes, rolls, and bakes all his own pastries and breads. He uses his own sourdough starter and utilizes only organic flour. They’re delicious—highly seasoned but simple. The only spread option is a generous dollop of cream cheese, allowing you to taste the weight of the bagel in its prime. They’re smaller and a bit denser than you would expect of a typical bagel, but the flavor and texture are at the forefront, which is exactly what Danny seeks to achieve.
Besides bagels, Danny makes a killer cruffin rolled in sugar and cinnamon salt, as well as a fluffy and savory focaccia for his main staples at the cart, and offers specials every morning. He also serves organic coffee, both hot and cold, and usually from the Northwest.
Danny has a knack for baking that is hard to find outside of big commercial ventures, and he’s trying to keep it that way.
“I pride myself in doing it all by hand and all organic, and I intend to keep it small,” he says.
Vegans get a hard rap in this city full of meat—but that didn’t scare off Don Gaines. Don came from Springfield, Missouri, to Memphis to chase his dream of a plant-based-friendly bakery. LuLu’s opened in January with a menu full of breakfast and lunch offerings augmented by cold stoneground, scratch-made wholewheat grains from the Southeast.
“Practice, reading, and YouTube is where I learned it all,” Don says.
“In a perfect bagel, I want to taste the maltiness and I want it to be chewy. And it’s got to have a lot of seasoning.”
Don ferments all his bagel dough with a wholewheat sourdough starter and a type-75 bread flour, along with malted barley. He boils them in water infused with molasses and malted barley powder. They’re all rolled and shaped by hand an entire day before boiling, without using commercial yeast, and topped generously as soon as they come out of the bath.
It is hard to find a proper bacon, egg and cheese (BEC) in Memphis, but I think I found the next best thing at LuLu’s. Their brekky sando is rife with charred carrot slices and grilled tofu. It’s rich in umami and as satisfying—and much more wholesome and healthy—than the NYC variant. Try it traditional or sub a bagel for the sourdough bun—seasoned to bits with your topping of choice—and you’re fed for the much better part of your morning. You certainly won’t be missing the meat. Round it out with a drink from their full coffee bar, featuring DR. Beans and Boycott Coffee.
LuLu’s is open Tuesday through Saturday. No tips are accepted, as they are an employee-owned company.
3119 Poplar Avenue
Joshua Carlucci is a Memphis transplant by way of California, New Orleans, and New York City. He’s a former professional cook, an MFA candidate in creative writing, and a queer advocate at OUTMemphis. When he’s not working or writing, he’s probably eating, exploring the outdoors, playing with his cat, or some combination of all three.
Breezy Lucia is a queer camera womxn, gardener, and sourdough-obsessed home baker. @breezylucia