Food - Q&A with Emerald City Bagels owner Deanna Halcrow
The local start-up is working to elevate Atlanta's bagel game
Atlanta's apparent dearth of "decent" bagels is a common gripe for pretty much every New York-to-Atlanta transplant. This is the predicament Deanna Halcrow, a native of Queens and current Cabbagetown resident, wanted to change with her scrappy bagel start-up Emerald City Bagels. "I wanted to prove that it wasn't the water that makes New York bagels what they are," she says.
Halcrow, a project administrator at a financial services company by day; her daughter Jackie, a culinary school grad; and Jackie's boyfriend, Logan Jones, began developing bagel recipes last July. Initially, Emerald City had a client list of four local businesses: Milltown Arms, Argosy, Midway Pub, and Octane Coffee. Fast-forward six months and that roster is up to 11. Jackie and Jones handle the baking. They went from making 100 bagels per week to cranking out around 1,200 bagels weekly. Today, they have more than 15 bagel varieties including Emerald City's popular Everything and jalapeño cheese bagels.
Perhaps more impressive than the company's rapid growth, Emerald City's bagels seem to mollify even the most kvetching of Atlanta palates. Creative Loafing recently caught up with Halcrow to find out what exactly makes these bagels different from your average supermarket bagel, and to see what's next for Emerald City.
Tell me a little about yourself and how Emerald City Bagels came to be.
I always had an interest in cooking, but about two years ago, I got tired of not being able to find a good bagel in Atlanta. I did some research, did a lot of trial and error, started making bagels, tweaked the recipe, and brought it to what it is now. I started making bagels for my family and my neighbors, and got some good feedback. So my daughter, her boyfriend, and I just decided to start Emerald City Bagels.
You're from up North. Can you describe the bagel situation there?
I grew up on Long Island, and Long Island bagels in my opinion are actually a little different from New York City bagels. It's been a while since I've been there, but I grew up around a lot of bagel shops, and a lot of those shops are family-run and passed down from generation to generation. So you have a really good recipe and people making them the traditional way. In New York City, a lot of those families have left, and it's no longer the same generations of people making bagels. A lot of them have gone to either buying dough from a distributor or using a machine to form the bagels. Both of these things cut corners and cut costs, but it really takes away from the flavor of the bagels. So I think that those two things combined have transformed bagels up in New York to be a little different from what they used to be.
And you make the Long Island kind?
Yes, I think so. We use very simple, basic ingredients, and I don't use a dough conditioner to puff up the dough — or any preservatives. We use malt syrup in our bagels instead of honey or sugar, which I think is a pretty key ingredient in a traditionally flavored bagel. And we bake our bagels on cedar boards. All of these things are methods that were used traditionally that other current bagel bakers might have gotten away from. We also keep our bagels in cold storage for about two days before we boil and bake them to help develop more flavor.
Is bagel-making a labor-intensive process?
It is. That's one of the reasons people got away from making them in the traditional way. It's a labor of love for sure, and you have to have a certain amount of passion for making these bagels.
How has the reception been so far?
It's been really positive ... We sell to a lot of restaurants, a few shops, and a couple of markets, and I get positive feedback from these customers ... I did run into a few people who were from New York, and got really great positive feedback: "We're so happy you're here," "Atlanta really needed a good bagel," and so on.
Is a brick-and-mortar bagel shop in the cards?
It's been a long-term goal. Right now I'm really enjoying just bringing the bagels to different areas of town. I think once the farmers markets start back up in the spring, we'll be doing a good portion of them as time and our staffing permits.
What's the story behind the name?
Our name was inspired by the Wizard of Oz. It has been my favorite movie since I was a kid, and as an adult I find myself relating to Dorothy's realization that her heart's desire has always been right in front of her, and she really didn't need to go searching for it. Creating a great product and making people happy with it is my heart's desire.