Lox and lox of bagels! Bialy’s owners hustle to keep up with customer demand

Bialy's Bagels Owner Mark Osolin

Fifteen thousand pounds -- that’s how much wheat flour Bialy’s Bagels owners Mark and Ellen Osolin require each week to keep up with customer demand. Anyone who has sampled a freshly-baked bagel from Bialy’s understands why these glazed, donut-shaped Jewish yeast rolls are so popular. They come in 18 different varieties, from traditional egg, sesame or poppy seed to the more eclectic cinnamon cranberry, French toast and “mish mash.” On Sunday mornings Bialy’s customers line up outside the door of the University Heights store, waiting patiently for the delectable bagels.

Made the old fashioned way, with no short cuts, Bialy’s bagels first rise as dough in the cooler, are then boiled in a vat of water, and finally baked shiny and golden on burlap boards. The combination boiling/baking process is the secret behind the contrasting textures - a soft chewy inside and crusty outer shell. In addition to bagels, Bialy’s offers pretzels and bialys, made with softer dough, formed and rolled out by hand, then baked, but not boiled. Only the egg bagels have oil; everything else is fat free.

Customers come from as far away as Akron, Youngstown and Erie. Bialy’s is sometimes the first stop for people who have moved away upon making a return visit to Cleveland. Parents traveling to visit children in other states bring the obligatory bag of Bialy’s bagels from home.

Since its opening in 1966, Bialy’s legendary bagels have been featured in stories on all Cleveland’s TV stations, and have been voted best bagels in Cleveland by Northern Ohio Live Magazine, Cleveland Jewish News and Free Times. Today, about 50% of Bialy’s business is wholesale. Its bagels are served at hospitals, schools, delicatessens and supermarkets throughout Greater Cleveland.

Bialy’s owner Mark Osolin learned the business from his father-in-law Terry Skolnick. Mark and Ellen took over five years ago, when the Skolnick’s moved to Florida. Osolin credits Bialy’s success to a terrific group of employees. “Bialy’s is a hands-on operation, a 24/7 business,” he says. “Most of our workers have been with us for 10 years and more. We have a very good, friendly atmosphere. Everyone here works very, very hard. It can get awfully hot in here.”

Osolin faces challenges as the owner of a small business. The cost of wheat flour has gone up from $17 to $50/bag in a year. With the migration of the Jewish community eastward, many of Bialy’s old customers have moved out of the neighborhood, although some still return. Newer customers come from a variety of different backgrounds. Everyone, it seems, loves a good bagel.

Jessica Schreiber is a community volunteer.

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Volume 1, Issue 3, Posted 10:03 PM, 05.01.2008