The Detroit Institute of Bagels is a Hit in Corktown

By / Photography By Carole Topalian | November 14, 2014
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With his background in urban planning, Ben Newman had an interest in helping others launch a food business in Detroit. The University of Michigan graduate quickly realized that the best way to help others was to start his own business because, “I didn’t have any clue what it would take to open a food business,” he explains.

In November 2010, he, with the help of his brother, Dan, started making bagels by hand out of his Corktown apartment. They used a recipe by Peter Reinhart, James Beard Award–winning author and one of the world’s leading authorities on bread. The following summer, Newman began selling at Eastern Market on Tuesdays.

Even as the business built up a following—and Newman’s confidence in Detroit Institute of Bagels grew—he was still looking for urban planning jobs. But then he realized he could have more impact on the community through his business.

Three years, $500,000 to purchase and renovate a vacant building, and many bagels later, Newman is co-owner of Detroit Institute of Bagels in Corktown, a bright and modern space featuring exposed brick and a mural detailing the bagel-making process.

The bagel shop opened on Thanksgiving Day 2013. He owns the business with Alex Howbart, who was the lead contractor on the building project before they became business partners.

There have been growing pains—it wasn’t as easy as taking their recipe fit for a home kitchen and multiplying it by 60. Then there was the issue of the oven; it didn’t arrive until two days before they opened the doors, forcing them to figure out how to make their bagels on the fly. And let’s not forget the polar vortex, which made business difficult for even established entrepreneurs. But they are finding their groove, selling up to 1,200 bagels on Saturdays.

Other than bagels the staff of about 15 creates house-made cream cheese spreads such as butternut squash tahini, smoked lox and jalapeño. Like any respectable bagel shop, they offer an assortment of sandwiches. For breakfast, available all day, there’s a Corridor Sausage, egg and cheese sandwich. For the lunch crowd, there’s the obligatory lox sandwich, but the most popular choice is the turkey, bacon, smoked Gouda, avocado, lettuce and spicy mayo, Newman says.

The Detroit Institute of Bagels uses products from many local food and beverage businesses including Slow Jams, Sy Ginsberg, Anthology Coffee and McClure’s Pickles.

Newman aims to build community through food. Next to the shop is park space outfitted with stools and a covered shed for people to hang out.

“That’s part of my urban planning [background], creating pedestrian-friendly spaces so that one day when Michigan Avenue is developed again, it’ll be part of the pedestrian environment.” He hopes to draw more people in with programming and events.

Building community is what gets Newman up at 3:30am to make bagels. “I think that we’ve had a positive impact on the community by activating a historically vacant space and managing the space in a way that is welcoming to a diversity of staff and guests. Our dedication to perfecting bagel making helps us create a destination bagel shop that draws visitors to Corktown and Detroit,” he says. 

Learn more at Detroit Institute of Bagels

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