The Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who brought their ethnic fare to the United States in the late 19th century probably couldn’t foresee salsa bagels or reduced carb bagels.
They also couldn’t predict that a doughnut manufacturer would become the world’s No. 1 bagel maker.
The Atlanta Business Chronicle reports that Dunkin’ Donuts, which bills itself as "the largest coffee and baked goods chain in the world," is now the largest bagel retailer in the world.
Give credit to the food, not its ethnicity, says renowned chef Jeff Nathan. "I don’t think the surge in popularity is tied to Jews." Just like the rise in croissant sales a few years ago was not a sign of affection for French culture.
But says Nathan, who is based at Abigael’s kosher restaurant in Manhattan, "Let’s take credit for it. Why not?"
The bagel, according to the commonly accepted story, originated in the Old Country, probably Poland, in the 1600s. It remained primarily an Ashkenazi staple until immigrants brought it to the Lower East Side. Its fame slowly spread to non-Jewish parts of the U.S. during the 20th century, until it became a breakfast and sandwich staple.
Dunkin’ Donuts, which has some 6,000 stores in 30 countries around the world, started offering bagels (including, at some locations, nontraditional flavors like chocolate chip and sun-dried tomato) in 1996. "It shows you that it’s not just a Jewish product," like salsa no longer is exclusively Hispanic, Nathan says.
According to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, Dunkin’ Donuts now sells 285 million bagels a year.
It makes business sense for an international chain to feature once-ethnic foods, Nathan says. "Dunkin’ Donuts is all over."
His taste is more provincial. "The best bagels come from Brooklyn," he says, from "small boutique places. They are all on Coney Island Avenue."
Can a lox-filled doughnut be far off?