An Authentic Gig

Any non-famous musician knows the tune. Austin drummer Joe Humel was very busy playing in five different bands, working out of town on weekends and bouncing at Momo’s. But then… (Cue epiphany score.)

“I realized my jobs were seasonal, that I was 35 years old and broke, with no money and no investments,” Joe recalls.  Yet that was nothing compared to his biggest problem


“In the morning,” he explains, “I wanted a bagel.”

But the nearest decent bagel, in his opinion, was 2,000 miles away in his hometown of Queens, New York.

“Everywhere I went in Austin, they sold the same bagel,” he recalls. “I’m not kidding—they all come from the same wholesaler. That’s extremely upsetting, because we all know that bagel sucks. I’m sorry, but I’m a street-food snob.”

And so Joe began to read bagel recipes, though he had (his emphasis), “no culinary experience. None.” With no job to crowd his schedule, he was free to experiment with the laborious processes of bagel making—rolling, rising, boiling and baking. He persevered past inedible first efforts, baking three batches per day and burning through more than 70 recipes. It became a tradition for his musician roommates, who rolled out of bed around 11 a.m., to start their day tasting Joe’s latest bagels.

“Finally,” Joe says, “after three weeks, I made something that tasted right.” (This Edible Austin reporter, raised less than a block from Manhattan’s H&H Bagels, tasted Joe’s breakthrough recipe and found it surprisingly authentic, with the chewy denseness and gleaming crust that put the overly large cake-like bagels of the West to shame.)

Rockstar Bagels was born, and Joe began putting together bags of samples that included plain, salt, sesame, onion, garlic, poppy seed and “everything.”

“I’m a purist,” he explains. “I stick to traditional forms.”

The manager of the Garden District Coffee House was impressed enough to place a regular order. Within days, five more Austin cafés agreed to carry Joe’s bagels and nearly a dozen home-delivery clients signed on.

“Only problem was, they asked if I was legal, and I didn’t know,” Joe says. “I mean, it started out as a hobby.”

Three days later, before any orders were made, he’d incorporated, acquired a small loan and rented space at a commercial kitchen. Within three weeks he went from making 12 bagels a day to 120.

Such is the life of a busy bagel CEO—flour, fulfillment, undaunted confidence, even a conference call with an 80-year-old master bagel baker in New York.

“He said I couldn’t make a bagel unless I had New York water,” Joe reports. “But I don’t believe it. I’m making a damn good bagel without it.”

Find Rockstar Bagels at Quack’s 43rd Street Bakery, Mozart’s Coffee Roasters, Garden District Coffee House, Little City Espresso Bar & Café, Summermoon Coffee Bar, Café Mundi, Spiderhouse, The Snack Bar and Blue Dahlia Bistro. More at myspace.com/rockstarbagels .

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Editor's Note: Although opinions expressed in Edible Austin's articles don't necessarily reflect those of our publication or staff, we would like to apologize for any hurt feelings caused by the Notable Edible featuring Rockstar Bagels (June 2009).

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