Food & Drink

FOOD INTERVIEW: Bantam Bagels’ Owner Nick Oleksak

by Jenna Wilson

Nick and the crew at Bantam

This past week, Bleecker Street became the new home to one-of-a-kind bagel store Bantam Bagels. Owned and operated by the husband and wife team of Nick and Elyse Oleksak, Bantam is taking a New York breakfast staple and giving it new life. Reinventing the bagel into a mini ball, the owners are creating their own flavors and fillings that satisfy all appetites. From standard bagel flavors, to French Toast bagels, to the Bleecker Street pizza dough bagel made with John’s of Bleecker Street’s own marinara sauce, Bantam hopes to “Change the Way You Bagel”. The idea of creating artisan bagels came to Nick Oleksak in a dream, and he explained how his dream became a reality in an interview with us during the very hectic and exciting opening week.

The Couch Sessions: What drew you to the West Village as the place to open your doors?
Nick Oleksak: I think we like the West Village because there are tons of tourists and you get people from all over the world, but it still has that neighborhood feel. With tons of families and restaurants it has a cool feel to it. We just love the neighborhood and wanted to share Bantam first with Manhattan.

Where are your other favorite places to eat in the city?
One of our favorite places to eat in Brooklyn is Talde since it’s in our neighborhood and the staff has been so good to us and supportive of Bantam. But it’s so hard to pick and it’s why we love New York City, because every single corner has another amazing restaurant.

What inspires you to create new and interesting flavors?
When Elyse and I go to dinner, we’ll go through the menu and say “This could be a Bantam, and that could be a Bantam.” You can make anything you like to eat, sweet or savory, into a bagel. Just thinking of things that I like to eat and thinking of different ideas when I’m hungry, I think of how I can make it into a Bantam.

How did you decide on the first types of bagels to debut with?
A lot of it was friends and family research and development. We looked at what kinds people loved that we were sharing at work or with our parents. From that we got really good feedback from the ones that everyone really liked and the ones that we really liked. We have a total of 35 different types that we’ll be rotating, so there’s a flavor for everyone.

Bantam's Mini Bagel Balls

What sets your bagels apart from the rest?
It’s hard not to like these, you can’t go wrong with a small bagel that allows you to have different types, which is what we really like about it. You’re not committed to that one big, doughy bagel. When I go to a bagel shop I end up wanting an everything, a cinnamon raisin and probably a third one. And I can never pick just one. So I end up getting two and leaving half of each. With Bantams, you can get all different types of flavors- breakfast flavors or after dinner flavors- so that’s what we love about it.

What’s your favorite type of Bantam?
The Weekend Brunch- An everything bagel filled with red onion, fresh lox, tomato, cream cheese, so it basically tastes like your quintessential New York brunch spread. If we’re making a batch of those I’ll have five of them.

What’s Elyse’s favorite?
She loves the Boxed Lunch, which is a plain bagel with fresh roasted peanuts and peanut butter and strawberry jam. It brings you back to fifth grade when you open up your lunchbox. It’s so simple, so good, nothing crazy. Some of the most surprising things are how people respond to just the plain flavors. It’s like the simple pleasures, sometimes you forget how good they are. That’s kind of what I think of the Boxed Lunch as.

How did you begin baking bagels?
I’ve always liked to cook and explore in the kitchen and try out different things. I had never baked bagels ever, before this. I woke up from a dream I had of making these little bagels filled with things, wrote a note in my phone, and called Elyse to get her thoughts. That night I went home and looked up a couple recipes and tweaked a few things to get to the flavor profile that we really wanted.

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What have you learned from the creation process?
At the end of the day, making a bagel is very simple, but for us, making what we feel is a really good bagel is hard. It takes effort and trial and error. A lot of it was learning on the fly and eating a lot of bad batches of bagels, which was fun.

What’s the best music to listen to while you’re baking?
I’ve been listening to the new Capital Cities a lot, their whole album is amazing. It’s also hard not to put on Of Monsters of Men because I think they’re great.

What’s the best part of following your dream?
It’s great being able to do it with Elyse and I don’t think that either one of us could have done any of this without each other. I can’t imagine doing this with anyone else just because when you do something with your wife or someone that’s close to you there isn’t any of those awkward moments where you’re not sure if you should tell them if you’re upset with them. You tell them exactly how you feel and then you move on. That so far, is what has made us successful and has made us get as far as we have, being able to work together so well.

You’ve already been considered part of the summer food crazes, what do you think about being looped in with all of these food trends?
At the end of the day we don’t want to be the next trend, we want to be the next ten, fifteen years. I feel like the way food culture has gone, everyone is looking for the smaller option and the healthier option, and it’s hard to sell a bagel when it’s big and doughy. Our slogan is to “Change the Way You Bagel” and we’ve really taken that to heart. That’s our goal- to make the bagel something that people can get back in touch with and be excited about it again.

Go get excited:
Bantam Bagels
283 Bleecker Street
New York, NY