At first glance, it seems an unlikely spot for a bagel shop. It’s not an artsy shopping district. - in fact, it's part of a warehouse. It doesn't have much opportunity for walk-up traffic. There's very little seating indoors. But when you stop and think about it for a moment, Cleveland Bagel Co’s Midtown location makes perfect sense.
Situated on Carnegie Avenue, only a few blocks from the Cleveland Clinic main campus, I’ve seen many customers dressed in scrubs during my early morning stops. Typically, I'm headed in the opposite direction, continuing west on Carnegie where I hop on I-77 and head south to my office in Richfield.
The Midtown location is ideal for morning commuters, though as its popularity has grown, it's become an East Side destination in and of itself. The convenient parking lot just east of the shop is a bonus.
Co-owners Dan Herbst and Geoff Hardman started out selling their homemade bagels at a local farmer's market in 2013, opening their flagship location on Detroit Avenue in Ohio City in 2016. The Midtown shop launched in early 2019.
Cleveland Bagel's menu includes a variety of plain and seasoned bagels and homemade “schmears” (flavored cream cheeses) along with popular sandwiches that have just returned to the menu after a COVID-19 hiatus.
Bagel options are plain, sea salt, everything, rosemary sea salt, sesame seed, poppy seed, and cinnamon cranberry. Regularly offered schmears include plain, Brie honey walnut, cheddar chive, thyme black pepper horseradish, chorizo chipotle, vegan, and a rotating seasonal selection.
My personal favorite is a sea salt bagel with thyme black pepper horseradish schmear, though I’ve tried all of the schmears and most of the bagels, and you really can’t go wrong. I’ll have to get crazy, soon, and order a sandwich now that they are available again.
The menu is vegan-friendly. The bagels themselves are vegan, and a vegan schmear, made from cashews, is offered in rotating flavors. A vegan sausage and a cheese sauce are usually available as well. The naturally-vegan #4 Veggie sandwich is comprised of house-made hummus, avocado, greens, red onions, cucumber, and tomato.
The bagels are referred to on the website as “Cleveland-style” which turns out to be a long-researched and perfected old-world bagel, chewy with a crisp exterior, and plenty of seasoning on the flavored varieties.
They’ll toast the bagel if you’d like, and will put your schmear on the side if you request it, which I usually do when driving to my office. (Otherwise, the cream cheese melts from the warmth of the toasty, delicious bagel.)
Either way, they are generous with the cream cheese, and that’s saying something coming from me. The words “too much cream cheese” are not part of my lexicon.
The retail locations also offer freshly brewed coffee, tea, and bottled beverages, plus nifty merchandise like mugs, t-shirts, seasonings, and the bagel slicer I’m currently coveting.
Let’s take a moment to talk about the employees. I haven’t had the opportunity to visit the original Ohio City location yet, but the folks who staff the Midtown shop are an absolute joy. They’re friendly, helpful, and courteous, and my morning always feels brighter when I stop in for breakfast.
I recently learned that Cleveland Bagel is invested in the community and the areas where its shops are located, in a practical sense. Last September, the business coordinated a neighborhood cleanup at the Midtown location. They provided masks, gloves, and garbage bags, and gave gift cards to the volunteers.
The company’s Facebook page is a hoot. One commenter called Cleveland Bagel Co. “Bagels with personality” which is both a glorious description and impeccably true.
In a July 2019 post, the company described itself as “Fresh hot malty boiled hand-rolled vegan non-racist job-creating living-wage Cleveland Bagels today and every day at 7501 Carnegie Ave and 4201 Detroit Ave”.
Whoever manages the Facebook account, which seems to be, at least part of the time, the owners, pulls no punches when calling out the trolls. The company took some serious flack last summer for requiring masks (even though they kindly offered to bring orders out to people’s cars if they couldn't or didn’t want to wear one) and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.
The business had no problem standing up for its employees, who were largely taking the heat. In a Facebook post last July, it stated:
“We don’t really care about the reviews, but the harassing phone calls are a bit much. Vote with your dollar people; if you don’t like our stance then don’t buy our product. Simple as that. You don’t need to make up things about us online or call and yell at our employees.”
As of this writing, masks are still required, and the number of people allowed in the small Midtown storefront at one time is limited to four.
Despite the antagonism from a vocal and aggressive few, Cleveland Bagel has a loyal and devoted following, winning Best Bagels in Cleveland Scene's Best of Cleveland 2020. Most recently, the company was named to Food and Wine's Best Bagels in America list earlier this year.
It comes down to this: As customers, we absolutely have the right to vote with our pocketbooks. While safety measures during the COVID-19 pandemic should never have been made a political issue, if you would like to punish businesses that followed the guidelines and mandates from the CDC and State of Ohio, then, by all means, shop somewhere else.
If a company chooses to publicize its views on current events, and its stance really makes you seethe, then, certainly, exercise your freedom and don't give them a penny of your hard-earned cash.
Personally, I prefer to know where a business stands on the things that are important to me: Science, equality, compassion, empathy, justice, and community, to name a few. So Cleveland Bagel, along with many other wonderful local businesses, will continue to get my money.
But the bottom line? They make a darned fine bagel!
Cleveland Bagel Co. Information:
Midtown: 7501 Carnegie Avenue
Ohio City: 4201 Detroit Avenue
Cleveland Bagel Co. bagels can also be found at a variety of local coffee shops and cafes.