East Coast transplant Joshua Pollack has devised a way to make a Big Apple bagel at a mile high.
Earlier this year Denver got a little slice of The Big Apple when Rosenberg's Bagels & Delicatessen opened its doors in Denver's Five Points neighborhood -- and this Jewish-inspired deli is already packed like the rush-hour subway in Manhattan.
When Pollack moved to Colorado to attend CU Boulder, he got a little bit of culture shock. "I grew up eating bagels and lox. It was our comfort food," he says. "In New Jersey, you find a good bagel shop on every corner. When I came out here, I quickly realized there wasn't anything out here like that."
Pollack says he figured that someone would launch a New York-style deli in Denver before he had a chance. But as of 2012, when he was pursuing an entrepreneurship certificate at CU Denver, the idea again arose -- and nobody had beaten him to the punch.
"In my research, I found there are a lot of East Coast transplants here," he explains. "With the city growing by 20,000 people a year, it has the right demographic and background for an east-coast deli." He developed a business plan for Rosenberg's, and won a contest at the school. As for the name, it's a tribute to his late mother and her parents, the Rosenbergs.
"We were going to do a small shop," Pollack says. "As soon as I started telling people what I was doing, I realized it could be bigger than I thought. The demand is greater than I'd anticipated."
It's the little things that count. In the case of Rosenberg's, the little things are literally in the water. "I've always heard the water makes the bagels," Pollack says. He went back east and sampled the water that feeds New York City from the Catskills. From that, he was able to replicate water with the proper mineral makeup to make bagels using a more than 100-year-old recipe in Colorado.
Denver's dry air was another problem. To fix that, they came up a very high-moisture proofing environment for the bagels. "It's probably about 80 to 90 degrees and over 80 percent humidity, like a hot summer day in New Jersey," Pollack says. Another issue with Colorado's humidity is that the bagels dry out in about an hour and a half, so Rosenberg's doesn't sell any that are older than that.
Rosenberg's also makes its own delicacies, including pastries and breads like rugelach and challah bread, along with a complete line of house-smoked fish including salmon, whitefish and herring. "Things you'd see in a Lower East Side delicatessen," Pollack explains. "We tried to create the whole thing, not just the bagels," he says. As such the pastry chef also uses the New York-style water to create his pastries.
The shop opened in June 2014, and the response has been enthusiastic -- to say the least. Yelp reviewers report waiting in line for more than 45 minutes, and they're still giving it high ratings. Pollack says there's often a line around the door.
No surprise, Pollack says he's in talks with the owner of a neighboring building to build a commissary kitchen in order to increase production and open a catering division. "I probably turn down two to three catering orders a day," Pollack says. "We don't have the space. We're ignoring a revenue stream, which is frustrating for me."
Pollack says he envisions having five stores in Colorado. "I want to have different stores and wholesale. "There's a lot interest from Jewish delis in Denver, as well as a couple of high-end supermarkets and a couple distributors that sell to restaurants."
Challenges: "Space," says Pollack. "Our walk-in refrigerator quickly becomes a reach in refrigerator when we're getting prepared for the weekend rush."
He also highlights customer education. "A lot of people don't know what a good bagel is," Pollack laments. "Everyone comes in and wants a bagel with lox. It's a generic term that describes a wide variety of smoked salmon."
Opportunities: Retail. "Some of our other items could do really well at Sprouts, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, higher-end grocers," says Pollack. He also has a pet project. "For the past two and a half years, I've been striving to work on a gluten-free bagel. If someone nails that, it will be a moneymaker."
Needs: Pollack says he's searching for "a POS system that works for us. We're on our third one right now."