Former owner of popular Ipswich cafe launches beigel delivery business
- Credit: Archant
The king of the pizza bagel, Avi Kniznik, is back - selling authentic Brick Lane style bakes, home cured salt beef and pickles.
Anyone who worked in Ipswich town centre in the early noughties should remember Carrot Cake.
The oddly shaped bakery/cafe, taking over the top corner of Museum Street, was one of the go-to places at the time. No-nonsense Canadian owner Avi Kniznik dished up incredible doorstop, deli-style sandwiches, legendary pizza bagels, and had a drool-worthy cake counter. A colleague and I misspent the early part of our journalistic careers holed up in the basement dining space gorging ourselves on rocky road.
Sadly, due to family commitments the café has long since closed, but now the chef (also a talented photographer with his own successful photography business) has stepped back into the foodie arena, launching Bagel or Beigel online with his young daughter, delivering artisan filled beigels and part-baked ‘ready to cook’ beigels in Suffolk and beyond.
Before I go on. They are called beigels. This is a discussion/argument I’ve had with friends on numerous occasions, and one I will not concede on.
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The chewy, dense, conker-coloured ‘real thing’ originated in eastern Europe and was later translated, across the pond in the States, to bagel (a mere imposter).
A ‘real’ beigel is a thing of beauty. Shiny, toothsome, slightly sweet. Anyone who’s queued up on Brick Lane in London outside Beigel Bake of an evening will know exactly what I’m talking about. I still remember feeling giddy every time I visited my east London grandparents as a youngster, which inevitably included a trip to the shop for beigels, onion platzels and possibly brownies or cheesecake too. The dough. The mustard so hot it felt like your sinuses would explode. Melting, thick slabs of warm salt beef.
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Those insipid discs of dry dough you get in packets from the supermarket do not compare.
Avi has food in his blood, having grown up in a very similar background to me, with a Jewish grandmother (always hungry to feed you) and not-so-religious parents.
“I was a skinny child,” he laughs. “My grandma used to feed me up!”
Beigels were a staple of his youth...alongside his grandma’s homemade pickles, to be found chilled and hidden in a “creepy old cellar”.
Showing a keen eye for photography and food, but no real interest in academia, Avi took jobs in a bakery in central Toronto’s Jewish neighbourhood, surrounded by ingredients, noise, passion, family.
He went on to set up his own cheesecake business while working for two beigel companies in the city...and making quite a success of it too, supplying 10 shops in his early 20s. “These four Italian brothers owned a unit and I started doing Smartie cookies and giant cookies, rocky roads, Nanaimo bars for them. By the time I was 23 we had a sales rep for that. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. This 52-year-old guy was there calling me ‘boss’ and ‘sir’.”
Avi landed a gig in the UK and spent time working on Brick Lane before putting roots in Suffolk, saying he “begged and borrowed” to get the money for his own café in the town.
“It was crazy,” he remembers. “I had queues out the door and I created a new concept in Ipswich that you sat with people you didn’t know. If there was a space, someone else could sit there. Food used to fly out the place in the day. And I’d go in at 10pm and leave the door open while I baked. I’d get police officers coming in at 3am on their shift changes for tea, coffee or a bacon bap.”
As life changed, Avi decided to take a step back from catering, focussing on his love of photography – a career which over the past decade has seen him shoot an average of 50 to 60 weddings a year.
And then...lockdown hit.
“I saw it coming. I told all my mates in the industry and they said I was worrying too much. Then that was it. My world crumbled. I almost cried myself to sleep. You work 12 years to build something up and it ends in five minutes.”
After a bit of soul searching the baker, who lives near Stowmarket, decided, at the height of lockdown, to launch into business with his nine-year-old daughter Poppy – CEO – with Bagel or Beigel.
“I started making beigels, and I’d always wanted to make the salt beef so I got cooking and I thought ‘hey, let’s try this’. I tried them out on a few people and almost everyone was positive so I wanted to perfect the process. I didn’t create a website until recently and when I opened the Facebook page and Instagram account, within the first day I got 40 messages asking how to get the beigels delivered. And that was from around the country!”
Avi is now making almost 1,000 beigels every week – selling part-baked creations in bulk for delivery anywhere in the UK, wholesale supplying local businesses such as Hank’s Deli and Nourish Café, and offering doorstep deliveries in Suffolk every Saturday, of filled and plain beigels, all handmade with care and attention to detail.
“The mix,” he says, “is like a proper Brick Lane beigel. The real thing. It’s what I grew up with. They look smaller but they’re pretty filling.”
As well as selling the baked goods as they are, the flavoursmith in Avi couldn’t resist going to town, creating a range of delectable incantations.
“They’re all different and every one is made by hand. I have one with cheese and tomato on the outside a bit like a pizza. I have jalapeno and cheese, rosemary with Himalayan salt and black pepper, chocolate chip...but the one people love the most is the Canadian maple bacon. It has maple syrup and bacon throughout, and then it’s glazed with maple syrup. The hole in the middle is filled with a chunk of bacon. The bottom’s a bit sticky. Delicious. A new one has a piece of my dill pickle in the middle and dill and fennel on the outside. It’s almost like a rye bread. Honestly, I have about 500 flavours in my head, but I can’t make them all at once.”
If you opt for a doorstep delivery you can select from the range above (and more) or choose a Bagel or Beigel picnic box. “In there you get four beigels, homemade pickles, salt beef and mustard then you can put them together yourself. Put as much in the beigel as you want.”
In true Jewish fashion “there are always leftovers. You’ll always have more than you need.”
Picnic boxes can also include Avi’s beloved pizza bagel (sorry, beigel) bites.
And why not go for the full experience by chucking a jar of homemade pickles in with your order too? “The pickles have gone crazy,” Avi laughs. “I make them the traditional way with coriander seed, dill, garlic, vinegar and water. Most people want a jar with their beigels.”