While certainly not indigenous to the Motor City, bagels that are produced locally have telltale specifications that are unlike their New York or national chain brethren: a bit smaller, slightly crunchy outside and a less "doughy" inside. And now, local bagels have made their triumphant return to the city center, courtesy of the Detroit Institute of Bagels.
It's a business that Bloomfield Township natives Ben Newman, 27, and his younger brother Dan, 23, are in the process of launching from their home in the city's Corktown district. They plan to open a brick-and-mortar store in the first quarter of 2012.
Kevin Bush studied urban planning at U-M with Ben. "What the Newman brothers are trying to do," he said, "is exactly the thing post-industrial cities like Detroit need as they try to attract and retain residents and companies."
Customers started coming from word of mouth or the Detroit Institute of Bagels' website. Their Facebook page now includes more than 500 fans.
Their downstairs neighbor Dean Simmer, a high school teacher at Detroit Cristo Rey High School, is excited about the brothers' venture.
"I've never been able to find a good bagel in the city," said Simmer. "And living downstairs has given me ample opportunity to sample DIB bagels. I can't wait until they open up a shop."
Already, the Detroit Institute of Bagels has orders from major conference centers, hotels and businesses, as well as average city dwellers. They also sell their bagels at Eastern Market each Tuesday.
The proof, to borrow a phrase, is in the bagels: The brothers' more esoteric offerings include olive oil, rosemary and sea salt bagels; cherry chocolate chunk; and blueberry ricotta, to name a few.
Ben, as an urban planner, you were inspired to start a food business in the city through your coursework on Detroit's vacant properties, part of the master's program you completed at the University of Michigan.
BEN: New businesses in the food industry can help fill those vacant spaces, attract more people to Detroit and provide jobs.
Will you help others follow your lead?
BEN: Yes, I want to help revitalize the city and attract more young people. To attract those creative people, you need plenty of places to eat, drink and congregate — that's what we envision for Detroit Institute of Bagels.
BEN: Detroit is a 'bagel desert.' Besides, bagels are the quintessential Jewish food and we want to be a part of a growing Jewish community in the city.
You used a focus group last March to test your various bagel recipes at a three-week fundraiser for the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue.
BEN: It was a good way to test support and help the synagogue.
Dan, you studied business and political science at the University of Michigan. Now, you and your brother churn out between 10 and 15 dozen bagels a week, often rising as early as 2:30 a.m. to start baking.
DAN: The kitchen gets hot, but it's a lot more fun to knead bagels than to punch numbers in a spreadsheet.
How difficult is it to start of business in Detroit with its 800 pages of business code requirements?
DAN: One impediment to doing business in the city is its murky legislation. But the City Council and Mayor Dave Bing are working on clearing it up.
Are others in the food business helping out?
DAN: We go on 'bagel goodwill tours' around Detroit. We're reaching out to other food businesses in the city and finding mentors. We also meet once a month with other food business entrepreneurs to help one another out.
You estimate you need $100,000 to set up the bagel shop and hope to combine your own startup capital with neighborhood grants you've applied for from Tech Town and Midtown Inc. What about "crowd-funding" on your website; how does that work?
DAN: For example, if someone gives $20 to Detroit Institute of Bagels, they will get a certificate worth a dozen bagels in return.