From pop-up to Palmer Ave, Collin Shapiro and Jonathon Zilber have always had their fingers on the pulse of the city. Nearly two years ago they decided to listen to what their fellow neighbors were asking for, and that was good bagels, boiled in Yards IPA, and baked in a pizza oven – of course.
How did two young urbanites come up with the idea of starting a bagel shop in Philadelphia?
Collin Shapiro: It started as something completely different than what it is now, really. At first, we were simply doing a bunch of food projects together like brewing beer or curing salmon.
Jon Zilber: Yeah, it wasn't uncommon for a group of our friends to get together and hang out and have communal meals. So food just seemed like the right thing for us to do.
Collin: We didn't know what we were doing with our first batch of bagels, but they weren't half bad. We thought, if they can be decent without knowing what we're doing, imagine how good they could be if we did know – so we set out to master it. Getting our recipe to where we wanted took about 3 months of testing, and our first catered event took place at the Hidden City Festival in South Philadelphia.
Jon: We got to know a good friend of ours, Joe Beddia of Pizzeria Beddia, by working at Shot Tower Coffee in Queen Village. As someone who knows dough, we asked him to try out our first completed bagels and he loved them so much he allowed us to use his space for our first ever pop-up series. Once that happened, our bagels just spread like wildfire. We put our heads down for months and finally used up all of our funds to open up our own shop.
Did you always know you wanted to own your own business?
Collin: I for sure just fell into this.
Jon: I always knew, in some sense, although I never expected to actually get the opportunity to do it. I had always worked in coffee shops, so I assumed I would go in that direction. Bagels were just as much of a surprise to me. I think it helped that we both had our fingers on the pulse of the city by working in the industry for so long. We worked in venues where we could hear what people wanted and what they said was missing from the Philly food landscape. It was pretty serendipitous, we knew the city needed it but we also knew we loved doing it.
What has been the most challenging for you as new business owners?
Collin: I think the hardest part is managing your time between your personal life and your work.
Jon: Definitely, and keeping up with the really long hours this requires. You have to be fit to hang for so many hours a day. I definitely wasn’t when we first opened, and I have put in a lot of work to get there.
And was Fishtown an obvious choice for you guys?
Collin: Well, starting the the way we did through our pop-up series at Beddia in Fishtown, we knew we had to stay where we had already gained a following. We didn't want to abandon all the people who had supported us in our infancy.
How is Philly Style Bagels a sustainable business?
Jon: We compost everything we can. And we try to use as many energy efficient products as possible. We keep a certain amount of lights on 24/7 in order to keep the neighborhood safe, so we are sure to use energy efficient light bulbs for that purpose.
Collin: We also try to get as close to selling out as possible each day to eliminate food waste. But, whenever we do have excess bagels, we use an app called Food Connect. They're amazing – you plug in your donation and your address, and someone comes to pick it up and delivers it to surrounding shelters.
What would you say your mission is as a business?
Collin: To make good food accessible to our community.
Jon: We also strive to be successful for our employees. We make sure everyone is paid a living wage right from the start, and we want these jobs to be long term positions that people grow into as the company grows.
And finally, why Inspire?
Collin: Inspire just made it easy and talked to us in a very real way. A lot of other companies come off as a scam, whereas Inspire was really upfront and honest about what it was all about. It was hard to find reasons not to sign up, it costs so little and makes such a huge difference.
Philly Style Bagels At:
Philly Style Bagels
1451 E Columbia Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19125