Bagels by the Basket

A Starving Artist Catches his Big Break Over Breakfast.

Words by Jessica Devenyns  Photos by Ashley Haguewood

After getting back from a wild European tour, Austin drummer Joe Humel found himself playing in seven different bands, working the door at Momo’s, and still barely able to make rent. So when the opportunity came for a seasonal job, he left his musical career and took a chance. Unfortunately, six months later, he found himself wondering, “Now I have nothing. I have no money, no job… now what?” The unlikely answer to his plea came to him on New Year’s Eve. 

“I thought, ‘I’m going to try making bagels. I think that’ll be a lot of fun,’” Joe remembers. With no job to crowd his calendar and a grumbling stomach to fuel his ambition, Joe quickly began sifting through recipes and experimenting with the laborious process of bagel making. For three weeks he rolled, shaped, boiled, and baked bagels until finally a friend encouraged him to take a batch to the manager of Garden District Coffee House. After delivering a basket full of bagels, Joe says that the coffee shop immediately placed a daily order. “I walked out of there like, ‘What did I just do?’” Within days, several other coffee shops had placed recurring orders that quickly outpaced Joe’s home-baking capacity.

It was then that Rockstar Bagels was born. Although, Joe’s telling of the tale is more like, “Well, I guess I just started a business…” Despite his initial uncertainty, “Everything just started falling right into place,” he recalls.

However, it turned out that perfecting his bagels was like trying to break into a vault filled with trade secrets. “The bagel business has always been a pretty protected kind of field. Back in the ‘20s when bagels hit New York, the Jews had it as an apprenticeship. It was a very specialized product, like you had to be an apprentice in order to learn how to make it. For the most part you still do,” according to Joe. “Nobody knows how to make bagels. This is why they’re not everywhere.”

Despite knowing that the traditional recipes were iron-clad secrets, the busy bagel CEO was undaunted. He simply decided to develop his own recipe. “The first 9 or 10 months I was by myself 7 days a week. Literally, at some points I was working 27 hours straight…” Eventually, the exhausting hours of experimenting paid off when he discovered that there was a simple secret to a great bagel: texture.

Bagels must be fermented, boiled, and baked to get the gluten to break down. Joe describes the proper texture of this baked good saying, “It’s got to have a certain pull. It’s going to be chewy. It’s got to be exhausting to chew.” That is also why, he says, that there is only one way to make a bagel: with gluten. “What makes a bagel a bagel is the high gluten [content].”

This purist’s dedication to basic bagel technique has gained this dough-punching CEO quite a loyal following. It is also the source of his continued search for the perfect recipe. However, with a flash of his teeth, Joe Humel proudly claims that he thinks he makes “a damn good bagel” anyways.

Favorite Menu Item: Lox Sandwich! A fillet of brined salmon, cream cheese, tomatoes, onions, and capers on a rosemary and sea salt bagel. This is $9 of savory goodness.

Want More? You can find Rockstar Bagels at their walk-up window at 1900 Rosewood Ave. or at one of their many retail locations including Wheatsville Co-op, Cherrywood Coffeehouse, Sa-Téen Coffee, and Royal Blue Grocers.

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