NY Bagels Come to KC

When you work much of your adult life as a Ford Motor engineering supervisor, you are supposed to look forward to the day you can retire. Isn’t that right? The funny thing about the retail bakery business, though, is sometimes it calls your name and you can’t resist the temptation to give it a shot. Ask Pete Linde, who is busy juggling two jobs at the Ford assembly plant in Claycomo, Missouri, and his new one as baker and owner of Meshuggah Bagels in Kansas City, Missouri.

Linde grew up Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, where he savored the simple pleasures of snacking on a New York-style bagel every day after school. A bright student, he went on to earn an engineering degree from Columbia in New York City and pursue a career in automobile engineering. Seventeen years ago, Linde transferred to the Claycomo plant in Kansas City, and that is when it hit him.

“To move to a place without New York bagels is a like a tiny little hole in your life,” he says today.

His wife, Janna, who runs the retail store at newly opened Meshuggah Bagels, recalls how often they brought along an empty 27-inch suitcase on their trips to New York to bring back as many bagels as would fit. She’s from Kansas City and met Pete six years ago. He would often comment that Kansas City is a “bagel desert” and how he wanted to make his own.

So a few years ago, Pete started researching how to make the best bagels. He consulted with a bakery equipment dealer and a family friend who ran a bagel store in Maryland. Because of his childhood memories, he knew the taste he wanted. He would take his time and do it the right way.

“I couldn’t believe how different the bagels were” from those she’d had before, Janna says. To this day, “I can always tell when Pete doesn’t make them.”

From his experiences, Pete explains the essence of making a “true” New York bagel.

He starts with King Arthur Sir Lancelot Hi-Gluten Flour (about 14% protein) and makes 100-pound mixes at a time, using a BEcom fork mixer (Pete is such a fan of King Arthur Flour that he started buying the 50-pound bags through mail order; he won’t budge on the brand). Finally, he develops the dough in plastic tubs and shapes circles of 4-ounce dough pieces with an Adamatic makeup machine.

Dough pieces then go into the kettle boiler prior to baking. “It’s a 3-minute step that makes all the difference in the world,” Pete says. “Without it, the bagels would not be moist inside and would not have a crusty shell.”

Another crucial detail is starting the bake on a burlap board. Pete cut his own 4-inch by 25-inch boards (sized for the oven tray) and affixed a strip of burlap down the middle of each board with galvanized roofing nails. The bagels start their bake topping side down on each board, which are moistened to add a steaming effect once inside the oven. This allows the bottom of each bagel to skin over. “Four minutes into the bake, we flip the boards and take (boards) out of the oven,” Pete explains.

They bake 21 dozen a load in a 6-tray Baxter revolving tray oven. Business is booming to the point he had to hire two bakers to help at the production facility in nearby Pleasant Valley, Missouri. “It’s been great, quite a learning experience,” says baker Jamie Howard. Wholesale production started last fall, and the retail store opened in March of this year. Pete estimates they sell 1,200 bagels a day and up to 2,500 a day on the weekends. Retail sales already account for 90 percent of sales.

“We’ve had such an amazing response here,” Janna says. “Pete was right. Kansas City needed a good New York bagel.”

Meshuggah Bagels sells seven kinds (plain, salt, poppy, sesame, everything, garlic and onion), all made from the same base dough. Pricing is simple: $1.50 for one, $7.50 for a half dozen, and $12.50 for a dozen. They also sell bagels with schmears of cream cheese and salmon or whitefish.

Eventually, Pete plans to add rye, cinnamon raisin and pumpernickel bagels, but “we wanted to launch with a consistent product that we knew we could manage. At this point, we’re just keeping up with demand. There really aren’t enough hours in the day to bake, sleep and do it over again.”

So this story ends on a happy note. Pete is making the transition from one career to another with a big smile on his face. “Other than getting up at 3:15 every morning,” he says, “I love it.”