Photos by Razan Samara
By Andrew Mrozowski
A brand-new bagel shop opened in Dundas’s University Plaza just shy of two weeks before the fall academic semester began. The Old Bagel House patiently waited for the influx of students that they would receive in the weeks to come.
Although it might look like every other storefront from the outside, Old Bagel House greets you with a mural dating back to the shop’s roots. The store was originally the Great Canadian Bagel, which was open for almost 25 years before it was replaced by the Old Bagel House.
Proceeding further into the store, your eyes first come across a counter that spans the entire length of the store, guiding your gaze to the back corner where a massive wood-burning oven resides for all to see.
Standing behind the counter you are likely to see the co-owner, Jeet Gandhi, working away. He busies himself with serving bagels or working behind the scenes to make them. Gandhi himself has a long past with bagels, working in Montreal for many years before coming to Ontario.
“I didn’t come right away but eventually Toronto was calling me… They don’t have good bagels here. They say it’s a Montreal bagel but it’s not,” explained Gandhi.
Originally opening in Toronto, Gandhi and his partner Jerry Rai moved to Mississauga, a city that they found was not saturated with the legendary Montreal bagel. Eventually, they looked to broaden their horizons.
“We were passing by [Hamilton] at one point to go up for a couple meetings we had. We got lost in the traffic and ended up taking the wrong road. Seeing the scenery and everything… We fell in love with the city… It just felt right, and we went for it,” explained Gandhi.
Taking a first glance at the Old Bagel House menu can be a daunting task as there are an abundance of options to choose from. A bagel with Nutella can be a simple and sweet breakfast before class or if you’re looking for a heartier meal, the famous West Coast bagel contains lettuce, tomato and two eggs.
What’s the secret to these bagels? Each one is individually made and rolled by hand, one at a time. Using hard winter flour which is a more protein intensive base, eggs and a little bit of yeast, these bagels are then boiled in honey water and put to bake in a roaring maple-wood fire oven until they shine a golden-brown colour. This process is repeated at least three to four times daily.
“When something is cooked with nature, the wood gives energy to it. It’s a sense of belonging. There is love and belonging in each and every bagel,” explains Gandhi.
With a wide-variety of bagels ranging from plain to everything, paired with an assortment of coffees, fresh cream cheeses, vegetables, delis and smoked meats imported directly from Montreal, there is truly something for everyone to enjoy.
The response from the Hamilton and McMaster community has been positive. Gandhi recalled a time when about thirty kids came into the shop. It was a memorable moment for him to see the students gathering together and having a good time.
It reminds him of why they opened up the restaurant in Dundas’s University Plaza in the first place. Gandhi hopes more students visit the shop and try their bagels, especially the sesame seed bagel with cream cheese and lox, which is Yiddish for smoked salmon.
“Bagels are our bread and butter… We can’t do what mom does, but we can get close. That’s the only idea we have,” explained Gandhi.
With beautifully hand-crafted wood topped tables made from the same maple used in the oven and a long wooden bench extending the length of the bagel shop with plugs underneath, the Old Bagel House makes a warm and inviting environment perfect for grabbing a bite to eat or a study session over bagels with friends.