Los Angeles, CA

The Makers of Los Angeles - Courage Bagels

Paul Feinstein

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Courage BagelsPhoto: Chris Moss and Arielle Skye

Arielle Skye and Chris Moss Just Want to Connect

Los Angeles is a city of makers, of creators, and of doers. It’s the kind of place where a simple idea can spread like wildfire and a cult following can form overnight. It’s a city where hype can blaze an enormous path, but where quality ultimately rises to the top.

This is a story about a pair of makers. A humble couple brought together by love and lucid dreams. A story about creation and perseverance and drive. It’s an LA story, forged from desperation and melded with connection.

At first blush, you might confuse Arielle Skye and Chris Moss for beat poets and resourceful vagabonds. The couple is rustic and beautiful and kind. They speak in a language of fantasies and adventures and romance. Second-hand threads hang off their lithe bodies that could instantly thrust them into a civil rights protest of the 60s or a spoken-word night in the East Village. But there’s something pure going on here – it’s an effortless authenticity that’s hard to come by – especially in Los Angeles.

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Chris Moss and Arielle SkyePhoto: Chris Moss and Arielle Skye

And of course, with all that said – this is a story about bagels.

For starters, Courage Bagels is a revelation. Now there’s no shortage of bagel options in LA – yet no one place has ever put it all together. You go to Wexler’s for the lox, or Maury’s for the authenticity (though they’re 75% the size they’re supposed to be). You go to Belle’s for the hipness, and you find the Yeastie Boys truck if everything else is sold out. But all these bagels feel like brothers and sisters and cousins of one another. They all share a family tree and a similar style with a universally understood origin.

Courage, on the other hand, is a different species. With the crackling exterior of a baguette mixed with the chewy, yet light, center of a just-baked sourdough, the Courage bagel is unlike anything else you can find in the city. The dough is rooted in wild fermentation while the toppings are farmers market driven with scintillating tomatoes, luscious smoked salmon, creamy olive oil, and mouthwatering cream cheese. Each nibble offers a yeasty punch that titillates your taste buds and reminds you that tiers of excellence will always exist. The bagels are filling without clogging your stomach and nourishing like a meal for a wholly reasonable price.

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Cream Cheese Tomato BagelPhoto: Paul Feinstein

Or as Moss puts it, “Nothing is good, that doesn't make you feel good.”

One might call this bagel version Montreal-style, but it would be fairer to come up with a new designation because it is something unique.

Afterall, it was born of lucid dreams.

In 2016, Skye had lost her job and was looking for purpose. On a whim, she turned to breadmaking while collecting unemployment. But her ‘ah ha’ moment came one morning when she simply decided to make some bagels.

“I had remembered this recipe that I saw years ago for a Montreal style bagel. I had never even heard of Montreal style bagels before, but it just sounded good. And they looked good. So, I made them. And they tasted good! And then I just kept making them.” said Skye.

Chris Moss, meanwhile, has a food history in his family. Growing up on the East Coast, Moss’s dad had worked for NBC as a food editor and had his own cooking show on NBC radio.

“My dad passed away when I was five, and I was sort of left with this giant stack of recipes. Each recipe was one show on NBC. “So, even when I was like eight years old, I was reading these really beautifully written shows and finding a way to connect with this person that wasn't there.” Moss explained.

Moss’s food journey led him to stints in kitchens in Los Angeles, down rabbit holes of cookbooks, and on journeys of flavors and experiments. Moss also became obsessed with bread and had the early fortune to connect with Nancy Silverton back in her La Brea Bakery days.

“I got whatever magical pixie dust that Nancy Silverton seems to have sprinkled on me, and then I would go back to our kitchen that was in the old Pabst Brewery with natural yeast just embedded in the walls. That's where I fell in love with wild fermentation and really became obsessed like a madman.” said Moss.

When Skye and Moss met, it was like two supercharged protons and electrons colliding in the galaxy. “I met Arielle, who I fell in love with when I saw her smile, basically, because it was foreign to Los Angeles. It was just this sort of genuine pure beam of life that I felt very connected with.”

Skye’s bagel baking started for herself, but slowly grew as she sold them to roommates. From roommates, Skye painted her bicycle red and began pedaling around LA, selling the bagels from a basket. Little by little, the bagel following grew. From the basket, Skye posted up in front of Intelligentsia Coffee in Silver Lake to sell bagels to coffee customers.

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Early Courage days with Arielle SkyePhoto: Chris Moss and Arielle Skye

Even though they were seeing some mild success, the couple was still in fairly dire straits.

“Keep in mind, the clock is ticking. There's no savings, we didn’t have any money. We both had run away from home essentially around the same time. We're different ages, but we both had a similar story in that sense. It’s this kind of runaway culture where you just have to figure it out. Neither of us went to college and we both kind of knew at an early age that we were going to have to figure things out on our own or perish.” said Moss.

From there, the couple began applying to get into the Silver Lake Farmers Market. After a year of trying and harassing the gatekeepers, they finally earned a spot, but by no means were bagels paying the rent.

“People thought we were making all this money because there was a little buzz. But Arielle had to get another job and I was hustling on my end to meet expenses. We often say that we're basically just two artists who are generally unemployable, and so we really needed this to work so that we could do something creative and work with our hands and be able to feed ourselves.” Moss explained.

It was at the market, though, where Moss and Skye revealed the Dream Bagel. “The recipe came in a dream, that’s where it comes from.” said Moss.

This is the bagel that you eat today at Courage, with its glassy, charred sesame exterior and warm doughy middle. For what it’s worth, Moss is a big proponent of lucid dreaming, so much so, he’s even written a book about it – and who can argue with a process if it produces these results?

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Wild Alaskan Salmon Roe BagelPhoto: Paul Feinstein

But the jump to a brick and mortar was another beast altogether. Ultimately, the Courage couple wanted something simple. “We really just wanted to create community, serve people, make people happy, and feed them something that was really healthy. Bagels had kind of become junk food, and we wanted to pull it out of there and serve it as something that was just a good, nourishing snack or light meal.” said Moss.

It took the couple another year to get their bagel shop off the ground, scrounging up money in the form of loans in lieu of direct investments. This gave Moss and Skye the ability to own their product, mold it in their own way, and create a business based on their ethos of community before thinking about turning profits.

Today, a day for Moss and Skye starts around 4:45 in the morning. Skye is usually first at the shop around 6:00am to start the first few rounds of bagel baking. Moss joins and the two spend the whole day making bagels, assembling orders, managing staff, ordering inventory, and all the headaches that come with running a business.

And that’s not to mention the line that forms outside the shop from the moment they open until the bagels are entirely sold out.

Ironically, the couple weren’t even bagel eaters. They hadn’t eaten a bagel in years, didn’t do any market research around the city, and had basically given up on the food altogether.

“It's kind of nice because we weren't really focused on what other people were doing. We weren’t really in the food world at all and just kind of doing our own thing.” said Skye. “We didn't try any other bagels, and we didn't really care what everyone else was doing. We were just trying to make something that we really thought was great.” Moss explained.

So, why the name courage? As Skye likes to expound, it pays homage to bagel’s roots while also tipping their hat to the journey that got them here.

“When this all started, I was reading all these books about bagels. And somewhere I read something that said that the bagel represented Jewish courage. It talked about how in Poland, the Jews would sell bagels on the street, and it was all illegal, and none of them could afford permits, which is exactly what we were doing. So, Chris and I were just talking one day, and it was like, okay, that's the name. But also, on a personal note, I needed courage. In this moment of my life, I needed to find courage and was like wow, this is it.”

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Courage BagelsPhoto: Chris Moss and Arielle Skye

When it comes to makers, there’s often a pursuit to strive for perfection. To achieve the unachievable and value the journey that it takes you on along the way. But for Skye and Moss, this has nothing to do with why they’re making some of the best bagels in Los Angeles.

“What gets us up in the morning is the connection and the potential of creating an experience of joy. It's like the people are whispering to you in your dreams, ‘get up, feed me this bagel!’ But it’s this deep connection of sharing and making people happy and creating something in a world that’s so full of negativity. I feel so lucky that the thing we make is something yummy and nourishing. And I love that. But I also love that connection, and that people are so enthusiastic about it and excited to share that enthusiasm with us.”

Why do makers do what they do? In the City of Angels, it’s often out of necessity. Sometimes it’s an inner desire to just succeed. Maybe it’s paying respect to a long-lost parent. Or maybe it’s just about following your lucid dreams.

For the Courage couple, this simple bagel represents all of it and more.

It came from a vision, is infused with love, it offers nourishment, and provides joy. With every charred crackle and every chewy bite, is there anything else you could ever ask for?

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Paul Feinstein has been writing and editing in Los Angeles and around the world for more than 20 years. He has written travel guides to LA, Bangkok, Tokyo, Florence, and Barcelona and has written for myriad publications and media companies including Travel + Leisure, Fodor’s Travel, La Cucina Italiana, Departures, Lonely Planet, Fine Dining Lovers, MyRecipes, Time Out, Culture Trip, TBS, FOX, Disney, Stacker, and NBC/Universal. An avid traveler, Paul has been to more than 55 countries, lived in Israel, and is particularly obsessed with Italy and Japan.

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