November 28, 2004
Bradley Gordon (A&S '92) left his home on Long Island, New York, to attend Tulane in the fall of 1988. He loved the school and the city from the start, but there was one problem. "I noticed that there weren't any bagels," he says. "I think they sold frozen bagels in Bruff, but they weren't very good."
Gordon can take much of the credit for introducing New Orleans to real bagels. He sells bagels like the ones he grew up eating in his five Bayou Bagelry stores and in most of the coffee shops in town. During Gordon's college years, he saw bagels gradually becoming more available and popular outside of the Northeast.
"Ever since Mc-Donald's put bagels on the menu, they're not as much of an ethnic food as they once were," he says. By his senior year he was toying with the idea of opening a bagel shop in New Orleans. He graduated with a degree in history and went home to Long Island. But he missed New Orleans, and in less than a year he was back. He brought with him the recipe from his favorite bagel store in New York. But the first batches didn't come out quite right.
"It took us a while to perfect the process," Gordon says. "We had to adjust because of the heat and humidity here." Initially partnered with a fraternity brother, he opened his first shop in the New Orleans' Central Business District on Gravier Street. He hoped to attract a professional crowd interested in trying something different than eggs and bacon for breakfast. It was a great success, and soon he opened a second location near Tulane's uptown campus. That location continues to be the most profitable, although it is the smallest in the budding chain.
There are now Bayou Bagelry stores on St. Charles Avenue near the Garden District, in Old Metairie and on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. The stores offer the classics like a bagel with a cream cheese schmear for breakfast, but you can also get a roast beef or chicken cordon bleu bagel sandwich for lunch. Gordon and his staff make fresh bagels five nights a week in their bakery in downtown New Orleans. "We run almost 24 hours at the bakery," he says.
Bagel-making is a labor-intensive enterprise. The dough is made and shaped into bagels, then put in a cooler for 12 hours. In the old-fashioned method, the bagels would next be briefly boiled, and then baked. But the boiling method makes the bagels too thick and chewy to use for sandwiches, so at Bayou Bagelry they are instead steamed for a minute and then baked.
"We make everything from scratch and use the best quality ingredients we can get," Gordon says. He makes his bagels with temperature-controlled purified water and imports smoked salmon from Brooklyn, sourdough culture from Chicago, and sun-dried tomatoes from California. He knows that as the purveyor of a specialty product, quality and consistency are of utmost importance, especially in New Orleans, where people know good food and are notoriously picky about what they eat.
"I'm constantly watching over everything. It takes a lot of time and a lot of effort." That means that he works constantly, visits all the stores at least six days a week, and answers his cell phone at all hours of the day and night. "But I love it. It's still fun to get up every day and go to work."
And his wife knows how much work owning a business entails. He's married to Ashley Bazzone Gordon, who graduated from Newcomb in 1993 and owns a bridal accessory store in Metairie. The couple didn't know each other well during college, but got reacquainted and started dating after running into each other at a restaurant several years ago. In addition to running two companies, they take care of their son, Andrew, who was born last year.
For awhile it seemed that Bayou Bagelry would be serving bagels to all of south Louisiana. But if New Orleans diners were demanding when he first started, the low-carbohydrate revolution has only made them more so.
"The low-carb thing definitely affected our business. People are not eating as much bread," he says. "But now we have low-carb bagels and low-carb wraps, and one of our suppliers just started making low-carb kaiser rolls." Of course, a low-carb bagel is not quite the same as the real thing. "It's like Coke versus Diet Coke, but what are you gonna do?" Gordon asks.
Even he has been on the Atkins diet. When you make bagels all day, after awhile you don't want to eat them anymore anyway. "These days I eat the low-carb wraps." But every once in a while he has a craving for a New York Classic with smoked salmon. "If I'm going to eat a bagel, that's what it's going to be," he says.
Favorite comfort food?
Chinese food or New York-style pizza.
Greatest food fear?
I worry about employees. You go through all this work, and then they don't show up on time or they snipe at the customers.
Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000 firstname.lastname@example.org