Food Biz

How a Self-Taught Baker Became a Pro Bagel Consultant

She's helped people open shops around the world.

February 15, 2021
Photo by Bobbi Lin

Making bagels is sort of like practicing law. At least, it is according to lawyer and full-time “bagel consultant” Beth George.

The 57-year-old is the mastermind behind Fair Lawn, N.J.–based BYOB Bagels (the acronym is for both “Build Your Own Business” and “Be Your Own Boss”), a bagel-focused consulting firm that has helped open more than 60 bagel shops across five continents.

“A lawyer starts with a problem and has to figure out what went wrong, how to repair it, and how to move forward,” says George. Her experience teaching people how to start a bagel business is similar: One “could boil and bake bagels the standard way, but it’s very expensive, labor-intensive, and difficult to scale that model.” George does teach her clients the standard method of bagel making, but she also sings the praises of a "boil-in-place" system, a term she coined herself for "boiling and baking in a self-contained oven." Using less energy, space, and water than the standard boil-and-bake system, the boil-in-place proprietary maneuver involves "water pouring automatically into a very hot oven and cascading down stainless-steel panels to soak the bagels." George has also developed an accessible business model that’s helped countless entrepreneurs dive in to the industry. Her lessons include vendor and ingredient sourcing options, overall financial considerations, and marketing efforts, among other details necessary to opening a small food business.

Though George is an experienced self-taught baker, BYOB isn’t a formal bagel store (still, locals can purchase her creations online), but rather helps hopeful entrepreneurs open their own shops. While other bagel shop owners effectively offer consulting services, George stands apart by providing her clients with a step-by-step guide to enter the bagel world, including a highly adaptable recipe, alongside additional tools and ideas needed to get their businesses off the ground.

Some of the shops she helped get off the ground aren’t in places you’d typically expect to find a great bagel, like Florida and Massachssetts, as well as Sweden and Australia; she’s also consulted in New York, for Bake a Bagel and Bantam Bagels, where bagel competition is fierce.

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Top Comment:
“makes [bagel] worthy of a consulting business with outreach all over the world? . . .maybe, it’s all about its thought-out structure. That hole, after all, serves a purpose: It allows the bagel to bake faster than other breads its size . . ." Deep, huh? There's more. Read the whole article; maybe even try its recipes. I might . . . after I first practice on pretzels . . . like so many, am just learning to cook since pandemic . . . it's fun!”
— JoesDiner

Although the intricacies of George’s company and her ability to marry two seemingly dissimilar careers are worthy of exploration, her origin story when it comes to bagels leans personal. George started making bagels at home in 2006 to satisfy her son Spencer’s cravings. They couldn’t simply go to a local bagel shop: In an attempt to combat Spencer’s ADHD without pharmaceuticals, George found research supporting the idea that reduced gluten could soothe certain types of behavioral disorders. Indeed, without wheat, Spencer’s behavior improved. But he missed bagels.

George created a spelt-flour bagel in her home kitchen. (Though it contains gluten, “spelt is considered an ancient wheat, one that Spencer could actually digest,” she explains.) So successful was the result—and so potent her desire to help others in similar situations—that she decided to trademark her recipe and scale up the project into a business through the help of Frank Mauro, bagel-making-equipment salesman and now her business partner.

Following Mauro’s encouragement and the positive feedback she’d received from friends and family, George eventually decided to shift the business to emphasize her consulting abilities in addition to her unique recipes, which now embrace commercial wheat, by setting up a company that offers advice on all aspects of bagel making. It was a risky move: George had never opened a store herself and had spent the bulk of her career practicing law, but Mauro’s experience and the seeming success of her creations convinced her to take the plunge.

George’s process isn’t a quick seminar. When she takes on a client, they enter into a yearlong contract. “I don’t just take on anybody,” she explains, detailing that she and her potential client interview each other at their first meeting. “I have to make sure that they have the means to finance a business that is going to cost them between $200,000 and $400,000.” After the initial meeting, George advises potential clients to scout for possible bakery locations within a recommended price range. “You can’t go on pure passion—you have to make sure that you can pay the bills and are making money,” she says.

Much of the consulting process isn’t even about making bagels. Next steps involve conversations about everything from square footage and paying for utilities to marketing plans. According to George, it usually takes the duration of the 12-month consultation period for one of her clients to open a store. Her advice clearly works: Of the 60 bagel shops that she has helped open since first establishing her business, only one has closed as of 2021. "The woman just had a baby, then COVID-19 hit, and she decided it was too much to balance," explains George, who has also helped an additional 10 store owners incorporate bagels into their menus, improve their already-on-offer baked goods, or build separate bagel enterprises in addition to their existing shops.

It may seem strange to some business-minded folks that BYOB doesn’t indefinitely capitalize off each store George helps open. Although she receives a standard payment from clients for the consultation process, she doesn’t operate their stores as franchises; ultimately, she thinks they have a tendency to kill mom-and-pop shops.

As for those sought-after bagel recipes, which are at the heart of each business she helps launch, don’t hold your breath. She won’t share her secrets with folks that aren’t her clients, but does voice her devotion to using only whole-food ingredients and her distaste for bagel mixes. In total, she teaches clients seven formulations for bagels that can be changed depending on the desired flavor profile. Montreal-style bagels, for example, are baked following one formulation, while New York style follows another. “It starts with a plain bagel,” she says. “If you understand the science behind it, you can do an infinite number of mix-ins and toppings.”

Speaking of toppings: Her consultancy work also involves teaching about schmears and assisting with the ideation of menus as they relate to the greater business plan. “You need to know your menu, how much you’re going to charge, and how many bagels of a kind you think you’ll sell each day,” she explains. “And then you’ll know how much money you are going to make.” Following menu-related talks, the prospective store owner is asked to look into a state’s minimum-wage requirements and more.

While her favorite bagel shop is Orwashers Bakery in Manhattan, who she did not consult for, George’s go-to bagel is of course one of her own creations: a toasted za’atar bagel, which she drizzles with extra virgin olive oil from Beirut and smears with French butter.

Clearly, George’s entire business rests on the steadfast popularity of bagels. Which begs the question: What is it about a simple bread product that originated among the Jewish communities of Poland that is so special, let alone worthy of a consulting business with outreach all over the world? Could it, perhaps, be its long, intricate, and multinational history? The fact that it’s one of the only types of bread that is boiled before baked? Or maybe, it’s all about its thought-out structure. That hole, after all, serves a purpose: It allows the bagel to bake faster than other breads its size, and makes it easier to stack a few on a wooden pole, which is how street vendors used to sell them.

“I think about this a lot: What makes the bagel so different?,” wonders George. “It is super resilient. There's something about it that you can’t really describe—a depth of flavor that comes through.” Though the process is simple, requiring just five ingredients, that’s also where bagels present the ultimate challenge to the maker, only adding to the food’s mystical qualities: “You could get it wrong by getting tripped up on that simplicity”

It always comes back to George’s lawyer-like attention to detail, best exhibited in her advice to hopeful bagel shop owners—though it does feel like this could apply to ventures outside of bread, as well: “Do your homework first, because you want this to be your dream, not your nightmare.”

What's your favorite bagel shop? Have you ever tried making bagels at home? Let us know in the comments.

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Anna Rahmanan

Written by: Anna Rahmanan


Susan March 1, 2021
Sorry, but there’s nothing about a homemade bagel that resembles a real, hand-rolled, boiled-then-baked NYC bagel, except the hole. I understand that, in the absence of anything we crave, we try to approximate the chew/bite/texture of what we miss; but, there are a lot of very sad wannabe bagels out there that the inexperienced will mistake for the Real Thing.
jcnNorcal March 1, 2021
Oh Susan, you talk so much, but you give nothing. Do tell us your magic secrets?
jcnNorcal March 1, 2021
My homemade bagel (and anyone can make it, anywhere in the world) is better than anything you've ever made. This stuff about NYC bagel being superior is NONSENSE. Grow tf up.
Deborah C. February 28, 2021
I grew up in the NYC area and love bagels. We left NY in 1970 and have searched out bagels all over the world. My son in law from Ann Arbor FINALLY gave me the best recipe. Google Stella Parks at Serious Eats and make her bagels. Worth the work! Neighbors now bring us 5 pound bags of KA Bread Flour in the hope of getting some! You will not be disappointed!!!
jcnNorcal February 28, 2021
So I guess this comes down to an advertisement for this greedy lawyer with her secret recipes? What a jerk!
Making bagels is easy and fun. I haven't tried boiling with malt syrup or anything fancy, just plain water and they come out amazing. I also like to make them so that the hole in the middle closes or almost closes to make a great sandwich. Don't listen to these people who want to make things sound elusive, or that they have some secret recipe. It's BS.
jillymacdowell March 1, 2021
I've been on a bagel journey the past 6 months and I concur! It's a couple of enjoyable hours for more bagels than I can eat, and they're about as good as I need them to be. The ones I give away are met with moans of pleasure so I guess they're good enough!

Can't help continuously tweaking flours & sweeteners & ratios a little each time though. #homemadebagels #ilovetoknead
mel February 28, 2021
Sonoma County has some wonderful food, but terrible bagels! Compared to Brooklyn. There is a point when "Everything" doesn't require every inch be covered.
tastysweet February 28, 2021
There is no denying that I love great bagels. The best one was at Sadelle’s in NYC. The original baker who I believe started this bakery, opened up with the best pumpernickel everything. But now they don’t even offer pumpernickel. Of course they have the best smoked salmon whisperer whose gift is slicing the smoked salmon by hand to thinnest possible. He has amazing talent.
So, if Sadelle’s started making the pumpernickel everything I would buy them all the time. Hands down. Their plain everything is the best around. Too bad they don’t ship.

But the bakery the author mentions, I don’t think offers bagels. Looked up their products and didn’t see any.
MacGuffin February 28, 2021
Have you tried Kossar's or, better yet, the Bagel Hole? Both do it the old-fashioned way but I prefer the latter because theirs are classically small.
tastysweet February 28, 2021
Smaller is so much better. We had those in MA. The size was perfect and loved their pumpernickel. In FL. Z o great bagels. Still searching.
MacGuffin February 28, 2021
Oh, I agree. That's what bagels were when I was a kid--smaller. I think it was Mimi Sheraton who wrote that there used to be a bagel-makers union and that the weight of the dough had to be 3 ounces. I mean, they're DENSE--why would you want them bigger than that? That's why Bagel Hole edges out Kossar's, although both are excellent.
Bagel Hole ships . . .
ChefKK February 28, 2021
OMG what a great article thank you! I am a Chef out here in the CA. desert, I cant find a bagel here unless drive into LA, now I will go to Orwashers on line and see if they will ship!
Sincerely Chef KK
tastysweet February 28, 2021
I didn’t see them on their website. If you see them please reply. Thanks.
mel February 28, 2021
Move North from Huntington Beach but really miss Brueggers Bagels in Corona Del Mar. As close to Brooklyn as it comes.
MacGuffin February 28, 2021
I've lived in NYC since 1974 and have yet to see bagels at Orwasher's. It's not that kind of bakery. Good baguettes, though.
jamcook March 1, 2021
I lived across the street from H&H and you could see the bagels boiling in a big vat.
jamcook March 1, 2021
The original Orwashers on the east side did not bake bagels. The West side store is much larger and makes the best bagels.
MacGuffin March 1, 2021
By "the end," H&H's bagels were made off-site and baked in steam ovens to duplicate boiling.
strombolis February 28, 2021
I now live ne as t Woodstock NY. Our weekend Bagel shop makes the best bagels I have ever had including having visited Montreal at the top bagel bakery.
Woodstock bagels such as everything has the toppings on both sides.
strombolis February 28, 2021
From 1965-1977 I was partners in a stainless steel fabrication facility in Port Washington LI and must have made the stainless outfits for 30 bagel stores in Long Island and Nj. Double boilers throw out tables and I can’t remember what else. [email protected]
Sourdogal February 28, 2021
My brother taught me a couple of bagel-making tricks in the '90s, (twirl the doughball on my finger; use baking soda in the boiling water). In the late 80's, I lived across the street from H&H in NYC, so I know a good bagel. I was a baker in Alaska in the mid-90s, where I only tried big batches a couple of times. Now I use barley malt syrup in the water, (lye is simply too dangerous to mess with) and I get "everything" topping from Trader Joe's. I make pumpernickel, mixed whole grain and gluten-free bagels, but never raisin, as per your illustration. That is a breakfast pastry, not something to put your lox on.
parskis February 28, 2021
Raisin bagel photo is a stock image, FYI
MacGuffin February 28, 2021
H&H steamed their bagels; they didn't boil them. And an enthusiastic 👍🏻 for using malt syrup.
Jess B. February 28, 2021
How can I get in touch with Beth ?
I’m experimenting with using food grade lye for bagels and want some advice to make a home recipe with it .
Catherine R. February 28, 2021
Love this article. It makes me want to open a bagel shop...and I live in Montreal! Congratulations to Beth and her great work.
MacGuffin February 28, 2021
"Soaked" bagels. No boiling. PASS.
parskis February 28, 2021
"PASS" 🙄 oh boy
MacGuffin February 28, 2021
Hey, I'm Jewish and I live in NYC.
tastysweet February 28, 2021
My daughter too lives in NYC. So when we visit, I bring Sadelle’s home.
I am too.
Tiffany P. February 27, 2021
Great article! Really enjoyed reading about how Beth found inspiration in her motherly desire to feed her son a food he missed dearly. Gives new meaning to “necessity is the mother of invention”! The simple bagel, loved and revered from whenever you first experience a “good” one...whether from NY or Montreal...and often the topic of debate when amongst friends or strangers. It’s resilience, complexity, depth, comfort, mystical qualities, ALL explored and dissected by Beth and her boundless, passionate curiosity!!! Thank you Beth. I dare say that bagels are indeed your superpower!
Maya22seven February 22, 2021
Beth’s story is so inspiring. Who knew bagel consulting was even a thing but learning about Beth’s successes it clearly is and she’s the master!

You don’t help create that many award winning bagel stores without being an expert yourself and being able to adapt her advice and insights to support owners in any climate and operational set up to scale up shows she’s a true business leader.

I feel inspired to try my own hand at bagel baking! 🥯
Kandrmastercarpentry February 20, 2021
Absolutely love this. Beth is an amazing person and has the absolute Best recipe for bagels, Her passion and love for this is absolutely astonishing.
Teague M. February 20, 2021
Oh, what I would give for a toasted za’atar bagel right about now - what a fun article!
Tim February 20, 2021
Teaching people how to do it themselves and own their process is a relief from the heavy-handed franchising world. Learning to "Be Your Own Boss" is empowering. Who knew a bagel could be so tranformational? Nicely written piece. Thanks.
JoesDiner February 18, 2021
A nicely written interesting story. Lots of info & insights on bagels. One example: "What . . . makes [bagel] worthy of a consulting business with outreach all over the world? . . .maybe, it’s all about its thought-out structure. That hole, after all, serves a purpose: It allows the bagel to bake faster than other breads its size . . ." Deep, huh? There's more. Read the whole article; maybe even try its recipes. I might . . . after I first practice on pretzels . . . like so many, am just learning to cook since pandemic . . . it's fun!
Drewy February 18, 2021
Great article!

I got to try a super secret product beth has been working on. It was amazing! Keep your eyes out 👀
hagnor1123 February 18, 2021
Beth's homemade bagels are the best! Hands down.