Benchmen Bagel Co. Joins Boston’s Pop-Up Brunch Landscape
When pastry chef Liz O’Connell left Boston for Brooklyn in 2006, she simply fell in love with the city’s bagels. A few years later, when she moved back to Massachusetts, there was a fluffy, round hole in her heart, so to speak.
“There wasn’t really anything in Boston that filled that void, and especially in Nantucket, there are no bagel shops,” O’Connell says. She had moved on island with her boyfriend, chef Tom Berry, to open the Great Harbor Yacht Club. She started tinkering around with bread flour and yeast to make her own, chewy rounds, and eventually introduced house-made bagels at the Proprietors Bar & Table, which she and Berry also helped open.
Back in Boston to open Yvonne’s last year, “We’ve been slowly doing it for fun,” O’Connell says. She made a batch of bagels for the restaurant’s New Year’s Day brunch, and she’s perfecting a charred ramp bagel with spring vegetable cream cheese for Mother’s Day. Under the name Benchmen Bagel Co., she’s also hosting her first full-on pop-up there, a Bakes for Breast Cancer fundraiser on May 1.
Her bagel brand is inspired by the Bagel Bakers Union, an early 20th century, New York City trade union that represented the men who kneaded, shaped, and boiled the bagels—the bench men—and the oven men who baked them, O’Connell says. But aside from the name, her bagels are decidedly nontraditional.
“They’re very different from a New York bagel. It has the chewiness, but it’s much lighter. We try to do really cool flavors. I would say my signature flavor is sesame Sriracha, and we’ll do a crazy cream cheese, like miso togarashi, or a pizza bagel with pepperoni cream cheese,” O’Connell says.
The Johnson & Wales-trained baker began with sesame and everything-topped bagels, but soon delved into “making it weird,” she says. “In Nantucket [at Proprietors], I was also doing a weird ice cream flavor of the week, and they were always crazy like that, too,” she says. “We were trying to get the brunch scene going there. It’s hard, after August, when all the vacationers leave. We were trying to create a brunch following, and those unique flavors helped us out.”
It also differentiates Benchmen from the artisan bagel bakeries that have launched on the Boston scene in recent years, from Bagelsaurus to Exodus to Better Bagels. “I would love to be different than all the other bagel people in Boston,” she says, though she adds she’s not too familiar with the other pop-up brands and didn’t set out to be “different” with her flavor combinations. “I just wanted to go for it,” she says. “It’s my style.”
The May 1 event is the first of what O’Connell hopes are many pop-ups, at Yvonne’s and elsewhere. Eventually, she’d like to open a Boston-area storefront, too. Follow along on Instagram and Facebook for your next chances to try O’Connell’s unique creations.
Benchmen Bagel Co. Pop Up for Bakes for Breast Cancer, Sunday, May 1, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., Yvonne’s, 2 Winter Pl., Downtown Crossing, Boston, Facebook.