If you thought New York City had a lock on bagel provenance, you probably aren't familiar with the history of Montreal bagels, which have been part of that Canadian city's food scene for more than a hundred years. But David Bowen, a restaurateur from Toronto, knows that Montreal-style bagels are a big deal, and he's opened Woodgrain Bagels at 2525 Arapahoe Avenue in Boulder to spread the word.
That's just the start of Bowen's aspirations; he plans to open six Woodgrain locations in Colorado over the next three years, including a Lowry outpost that he's inking a deal on right now.
Bowen's restaurant background is in fine dining, and his attention to detail and the customer experience are evident in Woodgrain's design and story. First, the bagels themselves: Montreal-style bagels are baked in a wood-burning oven after a dip in boiling honey-water; they're a little smaller and skinnier than New York-style bagels and are traditionally decorated only with poppy or sesame seeds. At Woodgrain, customers have more options, but they can still watch bagels being pulled hot out of the oak-fired oven, a Woodstone model clad in brass that serves as the centerpiece of the restaurant.
The menu, which covers a range of breakfast and lunch options, comes from chef Jeremy Schwartz, who previously worked in the wood-fired kitchen of Oak at Fourteenth. "He's used to working with fire, but he also has a passion for baking," Bowen notes. "Baking is a tough business — the guys come in at midnight and bake until about noon."
Montreal-style bagels have started to capture the attention of food lovers around the country, but there are still only a handful of bakeries outside of Montreal specializing in the style. "People like the honesty and the style and the craft," Bowen says, noting that the bagels are handmade, cooked in a traditional manner and rely on very few ingredients.
Bowen gave the design of Woodgrain as much consideration as the bagels, hiring Seattle design firm Graham Baba Architects, which has collaborated on more than a hundred Seattle-area restaurants, though this is the company's first Colorado project. "What I didn't want was barriers or roadblocks between customers and the oven," Bowen says.
Customers walking into the bagelry first see a marble order counter — several inches lower than the standard — with baskets of bagels on display beneath barely noticeable POS stations. There's no countertop clutter or deli case to stand between the customer and clerk, or to block the view of the oven and kitchen beyond the coffee station. Other elements, like racks of firewood, walls of windows that open onto the patio and warm brass and copper details add a welcoming touch.
"We were after a fairly neutral palette to highlight the oven and the bagels," says Andy Brown of Graham Baba. "We try to design elements that are interesting enough that you would want to replicate them."
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And Bowen definitely plans to expand. "We designed this as a prototype for all future locations," he says. The Boulder Woodgrain is currently open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, but a Lowry location (Bowen hopes to add his bagelry to the mix at the Hangar 2 development) will likely have later hours, since beer and wine will be served.
While Bowen admits that bagels are a tough sell during dinner hours, he has a few other ideas up his sleeve to draw diners. And that's promising news from the mind that has already brought something new and crave-able to the Front Range food scene.