Bagels in Rome are not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of when planning a trip or visiting the Eternal City. This is about to change. I’d like to introduce you to my friends Linda Martinez and Steve Brenner, who single-handed made the very best day of my 2020 when they announced they were making artisanal bagels. But first you need the backstory, which I shared with the Washington Post.
Take a Bite out of History in the Making
About twelve years ago, I met Steve and Linda they way all “expats” do. We had an American friend in common. Steve and Linda had been living in Rome for a about 10 years, had three young daughters, and a hostel that was about to become the pioneer in sustainable, affordable hostels in Rome, aka the Bee Hive. In the family, Steve dominated the kitchen and would make us tortillas and every now and then tempting us with dreams of bagels. Slowly, Steve introduced bagels to the Bee Hive guests but never really to us. At least not until the suckiest year on earth, 2020. Like many in the hospitality industry, the Beehive was decimated by the coronavirus pandemic. After hosting just a trickling of guests last summer, Linda and Steve needed to do something to supplement their income and lift their spirits. Enter Beehive Bagels.
“Basically, we were here, lying in one of the bedrooms, just all day doing absolutely nothing, depressed. And we were doing a lot more cooking at home,” Steve told me. That meant making everything from homemade pasta and tortillas to pancakes and bagels, sharing their cooking adventures on Instagram. Linda, on a whim, suggested offering up Brenner’s bagels to order and the rest is bagel history. Hello, Beehive Bagels.
A New Street Food in Rome
October 28, 2020 is a day that will go down in history. Linda shared a photo of the bagels on their Instagram, and the requests came in hot. The Beehive’s tiny kitchen was overflowing with bagels and bread. Steve and Linda realized they would either have to turn away orders or scale up so Steve met up with friend and pizza-maker Emanuele Piga, whose takeout pizza shop, Mr. Crunch, was suffering the same ennui of zero business during lockdown. It took just one bite of a toasted, buttered plain bagel for a partnership to begin. Piga joined the team, offering his dough-making expertise along with his kitchen and ovens.
A Family Affair
Beehive Bagels offers a typical deli menu: plain, sesame, poppy, everything, onion, cinnamon raisin and pumpernickel bagels, as well as artisanal deli-style pickles (big and briny, which are not typical in Italy) and sourdough bread. All the bagels are vegan, and ingredients are locally sourced and organic. Steve, who grew up in Orange, Conn., has always been obsessive in his research, which he carries into the kitchen. Along with perusing hundreds of recipes and taking copious notes, he relies on taste memory as he works through several incarnations before committing to what he feels is good enough for his customers. Case in point: his onion and pumpernickel bagels.
“I hadn’t had a pumpernickel bagel for 30 years, you know? And I was like, “Okay, what’s in pumpernickel? What was it like when I was a kid,” which led him on a hunt to find the perfect caraway and rye ratio.
Making bagels is a family affair. Steve and Emanuele get up at 5 a.m. to make bagels. The couple’s three daughters — 15, 18 and 20 — are often the taste testers, critiquing every detail. Linda handles all the public relations, orders and local deliveries, and the middle daughter, Paloma, has designed a pamphlet that shows customers how to store, freeze and defrost the goods. They ship bagels all over Italy, and even as far as Switzerland, but really what Steve and Linda want is to bring bagels into the breakfast fold in Italy. Linda told me her dream is to create “a bagel bridge”, or even a bagel penpal system where people from around the world can send bagels to people in Italy who may or may not have ever had one before. More like a doughy pay it forward.
Get yours, make a bagel pal.