By Ingrid Howard
On top of having three kids and one more on the way, Joe and Ginny Leavens are lawyers by day, bagel bakers at night.
“We divide and conquer,” Ginny said. “It’s a two-person process to prepare the bagels, shape them and get them ready, but the baking and the seeding in the mornings can usually be done by one of us. And the other one will get the kids off to school.”
Joe and Ginny met at the law firm where they both work, Balch & Bingham. They got married and lived in Homewood, but Ginny, who grew up eating bagels, realized that there weren’t any bagel restaurants nearby. The drive across town grew inconvenient for the family of five.
“One of our kids hated the car,” she said. “We were just like, let’s just make them ourselves. It’s easier than putting everybody in the car and going on Saturday mornings, and we thought it would be a fun project.”
They called Joe’s aunt, who owned a bakery in California, to figure out the quirks of making bagels. They began making bagels from scratch in their kitchen at home.
Then, for Christmas in 2017, they gave some of their homemade bagels to a few of their neighbors, sparking an interest from the community.
“People give cookies or whatever, and we were making bagels for ourselves, so we made three bagels for one house and three for a couple of other houses,” Joe said. “A day later, one of the houses texted her (Ginny) and said, ‘Where did you get those bagels? We want to buy some more.’”
They explained that they made the bagels themselves, so their neighbor offered to pay them to cater her brunch party with a couple dozen guests. From there, it was a ripple effect.
“You know how Homewood is,” Ginny said. “Everyone embraces the small businesses. We’ve been super shocked at how the community has embraced it.”
They got their business license and health certification and started taking official orders from customers by March, and Homewood Bagel Co. was born.
As of now, the company doesn’t have a storefront, and it operates solely on home deliveries and pop-up shops.
The couple said that taking the leap to open the business didn’t feel like a risk because they both still have their day jobs and because the business is still small.
“We didn’t have a lot of risk or anything,” Joe said. “It was just us, and if we want to keep doing it, great. If we want to turn down an order because we’re just too busy, then we can do that. We have a lot of flexibility right now, which is kind of nice.”
Ginny agreed. “It wasn’t something that we had this big, like, investment in. It just sort of happened, so we’ve just been rolling with it.”
While the company has many pop-ups around town, they bake the bagels and have more consistent pop-ups at Icing on the Cookie in Homewood. Shelby Adams, a Mountain Brook native and the owner of the cookie store, also helps the Leavenses with baking advice.
“We’ll ask him little tips and tricks about ovens or a rise or baking thing, and he has been extremely generous with that and just kind of helping us along,” Ginny said.
Making a Bagel
Ginny said six simple ingredients go into making a bagel, such as flour and salt.
From there, the Leavenses knead the dough, let it rise, shape it, boil and bake it.
“The trick to bagels though is there are a couple of different rises,” Ginny said. “You have to do multiple rises, where the bread rises, you pat it down, then you shape it and let it rise again. We let ours take a nap in the fridge overnight usually; that makes a better bagel. Then we have a special mix we boil with.”
The end product is a bagel that is slightly bigger than most and soft on the inside.
“We add a little more water and things to make it to where it’s really crispy on the outside but very dense on the inside,” Ginny said. “It’s really soft.”
People will also wake up early to get some of the Homewood Bagel Co.’s creative cream cheeses. The Leavenses also make these from scratch, with sweet flavors such as the cinnamon sugar or flavors that are loaded with bacon, cheese and scallions.
Although the pop-up model works well with Homewood Bagel Co., Ginny said that a brick-and-mortar store is something they’ve been considering for the company’s future.
“We would love to have a brick-and-mortar, but we want to be intentional about it, and we want to make sure it fits who we are, and it fits what we know about our customers,” she said. “So we’re constantly on the hunt for the right location, and we’re constantly on the hunt for the right partnership or finding the right bakers.”
She said that the bagel baking process is complex, so teaching the quirks of bagels to someone else would be difficult.
“Bagels are really sensitive to air, so we adjust our recipe according to what the weather does,” she said. “We need to be able to find people we trust to teach our process to.”
However, Ginny said there is a strong lead for a possible Homewood Bagel Co. storefront with the potential to open in the fall. This is still very early in the process, but she said she is excited.
“This for us has been fun, and it has been something that we do because we like to do it,” she said. “And we don’t want to bite off more than we can chew, unless it’s something that makes sense for us, sense for Homewood, sense for our customers.”