In the 1960s, the bagel was still considered exotica in Cincinnati. We were still largely a city of family owned Gentile German bakeries. The filled danish and the doughnut were the dominant hand held pastries. But, behind the scenes, a bagel revolution was stirring in the Queen City.
The bagel had already firmly implanted itself in New York City, first in the Ashkenazi Jewish population, in the wave of Eastern European immigration that started in the 1890s. By World War II, the bagel had staked its claim within the larger New York population. The bagel itself, had originated in Poland. But the bagel was starting to begin its westward migration into the Midwest.
We have the garment industry to thank for the bagel finding its way to Cincinnati from the Big Apple. In 1961 Hal and Audrey Block, with their two sons, Steve and Alan, moved from New York City to Columbus, Ohio. Block, son of a Jewish peddlar in New York, was a traveling salesman in the garment industry. He and a coworker Eddie Kaye had been sent to the Midwest by their company. Both of their wives lamented their inability to buy bagels in the “hinterland outpost” of Ohio.
They contacted a New York cousin of Block’s, whose father was an old time bagel baker, and used his recipes to start their first bagel bakery in Columbus, Ohio, called Hot Bagels, Inc., in 1967 at Kellner Road. At the time, it offered seven varieties of bagels, with lox and cream cheese.
Following it’s success, they opened another Hot Bagels Factory, on Reading Road in Cincinnati’s Jewish Roselawn community, and hired John Marx, a Catholic, and former Mt. Adams bar bouncer as manager. When they went into receivership in 1969, John bought and took over the business, renaming it Marx’s Hot Bagels.
John had been around in the baking business. At 17 he got his first job in Kroger’s 8th and State bakery. He moved around to several other bakeries, before getting his bouncer job in 1968.
Marx, the self proclaimed, “Bagel Man,” believes he was the first bagel shop in the country to offer blueberry, cinnamon, and cinnamon raisin bagels. His is the only kosher Jewish bagel shop left in Cincinnati, and he enjoys catering to Cincinnati’s Orthodox Jewish community. They gave him the honorary title of “Righteous Gentile.” And in 1971, Marx was brought to the Smithsonian to demonstrate bagel twisting. His personality is like that of local Jewish deli owner Izzy Cadet, or even the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld. He now serves over 30 varieties of bagels.
The last fully Kosher bakery in Cincinnati was Buchheim’s Bakery at 2200 Losantiville, which had been making bagels since the mid 1970s, after the Hot Bagel Factory had introduced them to Cincinnati. A 1977 Cincinnati Magazine article announced Buchheim’s Bagels were the best. Immediately Roselawn’s Jewish community lashed back in the next month’s editorials, saying that Buchheim’s were egg bagels, which, aside from the hole in the center, had no resemblance to the traditional “Jewish donut.” AND, Marx’s had 13 varieties of bagels.
It makes sense that Buchheim’s bagels were not ‘real’ bagels, as the Jewish community so vociferously declared. Gerd Buchheim, was born in the Jewish Community of Bad Wildungen, Germany. Narrowly escaping Buchenwald concentration camp in World War II, he fled with his family to Bolivia. He moved to Argentina, where he got his pastry education, met his wife, and then settled in Cincinnati. After a stint at Busken Bakery, Buchheim opened their kosher pareve bakery in Golf Manor. So, Buchheim never got a stint learning the New York Jewish bagel secrets. His bakery was famous for their crunch cake, challah, and rye bread, all baked without dairy. Gerd sold his bakery to his brother Fritz, in 1973, who introduced bagels to the lineup, as they noticed the bagel’s rising cult following in Cincinnati.
Another local bakery, Skally’s Old World in North College Hill, was one of the early high volume producers of bagels in Cincinnati. Odette and Ephraim Skally, Lebanese immigrants, opened their bakery in in 1977. Their flagship product was pita, because they couldn’t find the staple of their homeland diet on grocery shelves in Cincinnati. Seeing a rising popularity, they introduced bagels in 1981. While pita was always a niche product, their bagels became the dominant product and they invested in bagel making equipment.
With the current low carb trends, many bagels have dropped in size an ounce from the traditional 5 oz., and most are sold in groceries through private labels, including Lender’s and Skally’s. Since their introduction, national chains like Panera and Bruegger’s have popped up in Cincinnati, but those that like legacy can still crunch into a true New York Jewish recipe bagel at Marx’s.