WASHINGTON — Nick Oleksak is living proof that it pays to write down your dreams.
In 2012, the New Yorker woke up in the middle of the night after dreaming about bagels filled, not topped, with cream cheese. He jotted the idea down and fell back asleep.
The next morning, Nick — a “Shark Tank” fan who always wanted to come up with his own business idea — told his wife, Elyse, about the stuffed carb concept. She agreed it was genius.
“It was kind of like that lightbulb moment, where we both got so excited and we were making bagels in our kitchen in Brooklyn that night,” Nick said.
With no prior background in baking, the couple experimented with recipes and tested their products on family and friends.
“We basically had to Google how to make a bagel, and that’s really where it started,” said Nick, who along with Elyse worked in the financial industry at the time.
After receiving positive feedback from the taste tests, they threw together a business plan for their bite-sized bagels and opened Bantam Bagels in 2013 on Bleecker Street in New York’s West Village.
Nick and Elyse expected some pushback with their new shop. After all, the bagel is one of New York’s most iconic foods, and they assumed any attempt to alter it may not be well-received by all. They just hoped the city’s forward-thinking food community would keep an open mind when it came to breakfast.
“We knew if we could make it there, we could make it anywhere,” Elyse said about launching in Manhattan.
And they did make it. Less than a year after opening, the New York Daily News named Bantam Bagels the No. 3 best spot for bagels in the city. The filled bagel balls also made it on Oprah Winfrey’s “Favorite Things” list in 2014, and landed the couple on “Shark Tank” — a literal dream come true for Nick.
Shortly after the Oleksaks’ television debut — and backing from Lori Greiner — Starbucks started carrying Bantam Bagels in select stores, including several in the D.C. area. Last week, the stuffed bagel balls became available in more than 7,700 Starbucks locations throughout the U.S. and in the freezer section of more than 600 grocery stores, most of which are in the Midwest, Pacific Northwest and New England. The product is also available to order online.
Three years ago, Bantam Bagels was making about 1,000 bagel balls a day. Now, it makes about 1 million to keep up with demand, CNBC reports.
Elyse says part of the appeal is the convenience. There’s no need for a toaster, no need for a tub of cream cheese and no need for a knife.
“Anything to solve just one quick problem, shave one minute off your day, people are willing to do it,” she said.
At about 100 calories a pop, the bagel balls also appeal to those after the bagel taste, but not the 300 to 400 calories that come with the standard size.
Bantam Bagels sells a variety of flavors (Nick estimates they’ve introduced 35 to 40 different varieties over the years), and the couple is always experimenting in the Bleecker Street kitchen with new combinations.
The best-seller is the everything bagel ball stuffed with vegetable cream cheese. Other options include a pretzel salt bagel ball stuffed with cheddar dijon cream cheese, and a brown sugar walnut bagel stuffed with cinnamon swirl cream cheese.
Starbucks isn’t the only place where you can score a stuffed bagel ball in the District. DCist reports that Momofuku Milk Bar, which opened in D.C. in 2015, makes the slightly larger “Bagel Bombs,” and local company B-Holes Bakery, started in 2016, makes and sells stuffed bagel balls.