Welcome to the Great Bagel Boom, a series celebrating the vast creative expanses of bagel culture across America—because yes, you can find truly wonderful bagels outside of New York now.
When you spot the line snaking out of a tiny brick house on Forest Avenue in Portland, ME, you’ve reached Rose Foods. The shop is a neighborhood staple, one that Chad Conley opened in 2017 to bring Ashkenazi Jewish food and the charm of an NYC Lower East Side bagel shop to Portland. The design and vibe of the space evokes the nostalgia of an old-school New York deli, with black-and-white penny tiling and wire baskets filled with bagels. But when it comes to price, Rose Foods—and other craft bagel shops emerging across the country—can’t do things the old-fashioned way. Making great bagels with high-quality toppings and schmears is more expensive than ever.
One of the most impressive bagels that comes out of Rose Foods is the Rivington, which features smoked sable (black cod), beet and horseradish cream cheese, capers, and cucumbers. At $20 for an open-faced sandwich, it’s also the shop’s most expensive bagel. That might feel like a shocking amount to pay for a bagel, but Conley says the restaurant is actually making less money on this dish than on other bagels that are less expensive but cost less to produce. Conley says the Rivington would cost a whopping $30 if he was trying to make a significant profit.
At this point it’s pretty much impossible to ignore: Whether it’s $7 cold brew, $30 shrimp cocktail, or a $20 bagel sandwich, food prices are rising at the fastest rate in decades. And it’s not just the cost of ingredients that’s driving these prices up—costs of labor and rent are piling up too, especially as restaurants increase wages in an attempt to attract workers in a competitive labor market.
Beyond the inflated costs of hard-hit staples like eggs and bacon, Rose Foods also faces rising prices for specialty ingredients that grace its creative bagels, like oyster mushrooms and golden beets. “The alternative is to figure out how to cut costs,” says Conley. “But you can only do that so much before your quality starts to suffer.”
Here’s how Conley breaks down the cost of the $20 Rivington.
The dish: The Rivington The price: $20 (open-faced)The components: Sable, beet and horseradish cream cheese, capers, cucumbers, and your choice of bagel.
The ingredients: $8.70
Bagel $0.68Beet and horseradish cream cheese: $0.80Sable ($40/lb), open-faced portion of 75 g: $6.67Cucumbers: $0.30Capers: $0.25
The making of Rose Foods’ bagel dough, which uses both sourdough and yeast, is inexpensive. Ingredient costs are low for other important ingredients, too, like cream cheese, cucumbers, and capers.