Jumpstart Magazine interviewed Rebecca Schrage of Schragels Bagels, launched in Hong Kong in 2014. Her creations have been popping at business luncheons, startup events and everywhere where one appreciates the taste of a real New York bagel. See how she got started and what’s next for her company. And check out her Instagram page for an inspiring blend of food photography and Hong Kong scenery.
1. Bagel-making has been in the family for generations. What gave you the kick to start Schragels last year?
Schragels was started more out of necessity. It was impossible to find a real bagel in Hong Kong (or anything even close to it). So I started making New York style bagels at home and would have my expat-New Yorker friends come over and to get their bagel fix. After a friend ordered for a birthday party, I got a call from a chef wanting bagels for Sunday brunch at his restaurant. Then word caught on and everyone wanted the real thing. I also worked in finance so started to cater a lot of bagel breakfasts for banks and their clients. I realised then it could be a real business and the rest is sort of history. Since then it’s been all about spreading (and schmearing!) the Schragel love and introducing New York style bagels to Hong Kong.
It’s in the blood as well. I’m half-Jewish half-Chinese and my mom grew up in Hong Kong which is one of the reasons it’s so cool I’m here now. My grandparents on my dad’s side used to run Jewish delis in New York City in the 1950s and 60s. When my mom met my dad at college she didn’t know what a bagel was (and now it’s a family staple)! I’ve ended up bringing the bagels that were such an important part of my dad’s childhood back to my mom’s hometown, so it feels like a perfect mesh of the two cultures.
2. What were some operational challenges you’ve encountered/solved?
Any food business is all about its operations. For us it’s about first ensuring the product is perfect and consistent each and every day. After that it’s all about the customer experience – from on-line ordering and delivery to interaction and packaging. It’s a challenge to manage all the above in conjunction but we pride ourselves in making sure it gets done. Then it’s about hiring good people who share the passion for bagels and delivering an awesome customer experience. Once you’ve got that sorted (and yes it’s a challenge!) the rest is easy.
3. What’s your favorite bagel combo?
I’ll take an everything bagel with lox and scallion schmear any day of the week. Let me rephrase that: EVERY day of the week. I could live on that (and almost do). It’s one of the most satisfying meals and there isn’t really any substitute. Yup I’m a bagel freak.
4. You’ve been successful in getting a lot of media coverage, what’s your secret?
Actually shhhh don’t tell anyone but I haven’t done anything. I’ve just been very very lucky. Also let’s be honest, bagels are nearly all I talk about so I’m sure that helps too. I think people can see when you have a real love and passion for something.
I also spend a lot of time connecting and engaging with our customers and the people of Hong Kong. It’s not just about delivering the best bagels to those who crave it but also about introducing the real product to those who have never experienced a hand-rolled, boiled and fresh out of the oven New York bagel. You don’t know how many people I have met who have never had a non-toasted bagel … when a bagel is fresh (and done right) you NEVER toast. Actually you’ll get a funny look at bagel shops in New York if you ask for your bagel toasted (and most don’t have toasters!).
5. What’s next for Schragels?
Of course at some stage I’d love to have a retail space where people can come grab bagels and a coffee when they want. I picture a place where they could pop in to pick up a dozen bagels or maybe a sandwich, just like back home. The delivery thing however is working really well, and I’m just glad to be sharing a food I love with all of Hong Kong. There’s nothing better than receiving feedback from folks (often accompanied by pics of them chowing down on Schragels) asking where we’ve been all this time.