When I think about the perennial downtown question, “What do we need downtown?” I come up with a list that generally includes computer store, hardware store, cell phone store and of course drug store. I also always include a couple of food related niches: a butcher shop and a good bakery.
We have little bits of baked goods around – Tomato Head now has their “Flour Head” brand of breads and those might be found at the store or at Just Ripe, perhaps. There are cupcakes at Cafe Four and a few items at Coffee and Chocolate, though they don’t make their own food items. Still, nothing approaches a true bakery. To a degree, that may be about to change.
Hot Bagel Company is a nineteen year Oak Ridge establishment that serves fresh-made kosher bagels every day, New York Style. I knew they served bagel sandwiches or “bagelwiches” as they call them. During my recent visit to the store, I learned they also sell paninis and a wide range of baked breads ranging from Challah to croissants, from muffins to pastries. When I met co-owner Donna Sullivan to learn the details about the downtown location, she wouldn’t let me leave without a baguette, which turned out to be amazingly good. You can see their full menu here.
The downtown news is that Hot Bagel Company should open in about three weeks in the Federal Courthouse otherwise known as the Whittle Building. Details are still being negotiated, but the store will be open to the public and it will be located at the foot of Market Street in the northern entrance to the courtyard. With an outside entrance, the possibility exists of offering hours outside the Monday through Friday courthouse schedule. Tables will be added to the sidewalk, making it appealing to both workers and downtown residents.
Donna and Tom Sullivan opened their bagel shop in Oak Ridge nineteen years ago because they missed true New York bagels. From Aiken, South Carolina originally, Donna grew up in Pittsburgh enjoying a bagel every day and realized the only way to get the kind of fresh bagels she loved would be to make them herself. Tom arrives at work at a time of night most of us consider our best sleeping hours and makes bagels and their other breads fresh every day. The couple not only maintains the storefront at Manhattan Place in Oak Ridge, but they also service contracts for bagels at the various Oak Ridge plants operating two kiosks and a kitchen-front there. They’ve also served each of our last several governors and at least one former US Senator as well as Henry Kissinger and other dignitaries.
This couple takes their baking seriously. They make a 6 Grain German Bread, for example, that they traveled to Germany in order to learn to make it properly. The baguette she gave me? It was the most like what I fell in love with in Paris that I have had since. These people are not playing. Some of the breads will be available daily in the Knoxville location, but if you have a specific kind of bread you want, you’d best order it the day before and anticipate that fresh-baked goodness the next morning.
They cater events and also are able to make larger orders of bagels or other food items, but they would need advanced notice for those requests. I anticipate getting to know some breads and pastries with which I am not familiar. A table on the wide sidewalk looking down beautiful Market Street with the interesting architecture of the Episcopal Church across the street on a cool summer morning with a hot piece of fresh-baked bread and an excellent cup of coffee or espresso sounds like a perfect Knoxville moment, to me.
In addition to making excellent breads and bagels, Donna is passionate about giving back to her community and to those in need. Sales of their purple whole wheat cinnamon raisin bread goes to Lupus awareness and research, a cause that is close to hers and Tom’s hearts. Donna said she “looks forward to becoming involved in the downtown community,” and really wants to get to know the city. She will likely be in the Knoxville location through the summer, but the daily operations will be taken over by their daughter, Katie, at some point.
I hope you will take the walk down Market Street and welcome the Hot Bagel Company to the city. This is one of those businesses we get occasionally that I just can’t imagine how they could avoid being successful. Just spend a few minutes talking to Donna and you’ll be convinced. If that doesn’t sell you all the way, just let me buy you a baguette. Then we’ll talk.
Final word: A special thanks to Liz Vane, a friend and reader from Oak Ridge, who tipped me off to this story. Have a tip of your own? E-mail me or message me on Facebook.