Bagelsaurus’s Mary Ting Hyatt on the art of running a small business
It takes passion, grit and a whole lot of bagels.
“I’ll be out there in just a second!” Mary Ting Hyatt said from the kitchen of her successful Cambridge bagel bakery, Bagelsaurus. Dressed in her trademark hair wrap and a gray t-shirt advertising the sandwich shop Cutty’s, Mary leaned against the steel sink and ran warm water over her sticky, dough-covered hands.
It was a warm Tuesday evening at Porter Square, and Bagelsaurus had just shut its doors for the day. Mary had spent the last couple of hours in the kitchen, hand-shaping her renowned bagel dough. The small shop was filled with the cozy smell of bagels baking in the oven, which Mary kept an attentive eye on from her position at the sink.
After scrubbing all the dough off of her hands, Mary quickly cleaned off the counter and wiped her hands off, as if out of habit. Then, she slid into the wooden booth, looking down at her t-shirt at the same time.
“It’s funny that I wore a Cutty’s t-shirt to an interview about Bagelsaurus, isn’t it?” she said laughing.
It made sense, though, considering the role Cutty’s has played in Mary’s life. In the five years following her 2008 graduation from the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, Mary worked at a variety of restaurant kitchens, eventually opening up a pop-up bagel store within Cutty’s in Brookline. This marked the beginning of Bagelsaurus, and Mary credits much of her success to Rachel and Charles Kelsey, the owners of Cutty’s, who encouraged her to expand her bagel business.
“They’ve definitely been mentors to me throughout all of this,” Mary said. “I don’t know how I could have done any of this without the support of my friends and family.”
It’s this support within the Boston community combined with her own resolve that Mary attributes to her early success. After just six months of operating from its own storefront in Porter Square, Bagelsaurus has already been referred to as the best bagel shop in all of Boston. On any given morning, it isn’t unusual to see a line of hungry customers wrapped around the front of the store.
But, as Mary animatedly shared, pleasing these customers isn’t an easy task. Bagelsaurus started out with a team of just six employees, partially due to an underestimation of how busy and large the entire operation would be on a day-to-day basis.
“At first, I thought it would just be a small group of bakers, and we’d make the bagels, make the cream cheese and do the dishes ourselves,” she said, gesturing to the kitchen. “But the staff quickly grew from six to ten when we realized there was a line down the block and we didn’t even have enough people to answer the phone.”
A majority of the time that Bagelsaurus’s staff spends working goes toward the bagel-making process, which lasts about 24 hours. Using a decades-old sourdough starter, Mary first lets the dough ferment in order to gain “flavor and strength.” Then, she hand shapes the dough and refrigerates it overnight — a method unique to Bagelsaurus. Following this stage, the bagels are boiled, baked and finally served to the customers.
“I just didn’t want it to seem like a factory,” Mary said, shrugging. “I want the bakers to feel like they’re baking something and producing it with care. It’s a constant cycle.”
“There’s a great sense of community and family in such a small business.”
Despite the extra work, Bagelsaurus’s employees have expressed nothing but support for the entire operation. Chloe Nolan, the bakery’s manager, has known Mary since their pastry-filled days at Clear Flour, where they worked before Mary joined Cutty’s. Chloe played a large part in Bagelsaurus’s opening back in October, and said it was “thrilling” to get to work with her friend once again.
“Mary has a fantastic culinary instinct and creative flair,” Chloe said. “Her drive and work ethic has made Bagelsaurus what it is today. There’s no cutting corners — everything is handmade and delicious.”
This support was not always reflected in Mary’s personal life, however. It took her father a while to accept that she was serious enough about opening her own small business, as evident by the law school brochures he used to send her. But Mary was quick to share that once she got deeper into the actual process of starting her own bakery, her parents became more accepting and understanding of her career choice.
“I just had to show them that I was serious and once I did, things changed,” she said. “It’s a competitive field, but at the same time, there are so many people in a city, and they all need to eat. I think just having the concept proven makes you feel a lot less scared.”
Mary has also received a lot of personal encouragement from her husband, Wilbur Hyatt. Married in 2012, the couple often works side-by-side at Bagelsaurus, as Wilbur works the sandwich line on the weekends. While he jokingly claimed that it is “dangerous” to ask a man about his wife and her business, Wilbur did express a great amount of admiration and encouragement for Mary.
“Mary is as sweet as they come, but also incredibly smart and hardworking,” he said. “Professionally, she had the grit and fortitude to take on an enormous project that I’m sure would’ve swallowed most people whole. And yet, she has such a distinctly gentle temperament.”
Mary expressed her gratitude for her husband’s help, even sharing an anecdote in which the staff ran out of an ingredient they needed, and couldn’t get it delivered in time. After a quick phone call, Wilbur effectively saved the day, running over to the grocery store and back to Bagelsaurus in almost no time.
“I just called him and sent him to Whole Foods — that sort of thing,” Mary said, slightly shaking her head in awe. “You just have to drop everything and make sure that the business survives.”
With this attitude, Mary is always on the job. While speaking about her husband, she spotted a crumb on a nearby chair and quickly got up to sweep it into a napkin. Even through these small acts, it is clear that Bagelsaurus is ultimately Mary’s own success. Her determination and ability to balance heavy responsibilities as a small business owner are what allow her bakery to thrive.
“It’s crazy being a small business owner, but I expected it,” she said. “You really wear many hats. Ultimately, you’re responsible for everything, even if you hire people. So there’s a lot of pressure. I have to be positive even when I don’t feel like being positive, because as a small business owner, the staff feeds on you and you have to be a good example for them.”
Customers can see this in action during a visit to the bakery. Rather than order her staff around from afar, Mary is very much involved in the everyday happenings of Bagelsaurus. She spreads the cream cheese on the bagels, mans the cash register and even stops every so often to answer the phone.
“I think a lot of bosses are different in that they stand back and delegate what needs to be done,” she said, clasping her hands together. “But I really like to be in it, and I enjoy doing the work and baking. That’s why I did this. But at the same time, I realize that I sometimes need to step back. It was the same at Cutty’s, where everyone does everything. You may have been hired as a sandwich maker, but I can always go, ‘Hey I need you to go wash dishes right now because the dish washer left.’ Everyone’s willing to step up because I feel like there’s a great sense of community and family in such a small business.”
What initially spurred Mary to take on such a huge task was the largely unexplored territory of bagels in the Boston area. She smiled and shrugged her shoulders while discussing the reasoning behind opening Bagelsaurus, implying that the decision was a simple one.
“Basically, I just thought that it was an underrepresented thing in Boston when I got here in 2007,” she said. “I knew I was looking for great bagels, and I couldn’t find them. All throughout, I kept thinking that someone would do it, and if not, then maybe I would. Eventually, no one did. So I started making them at home and developed a recipe. I realized it was really good and better than anything I could find. That was pretty much it.”
Experiencing such early success is relatively rare in Mary’s industry. After being asked what advice she would share with aspiring bakers or small business owners, Mary crossed her arms back and leaned back in her chair. She then scanned the bakery, as if looking for inspiration.
“There are just so many things not only that you’re responsible for, but also that you need to do to start,” she said. “That’s really scary, but my advice would be that people do this all the time. And you’re smarter than a lot of the other people that do it, so you can do it. Other people know the process, so you just need to talk to as many people as you can, and they’ll help you through it.”
It’s this confidence that shines through Mary’s speech and work ethic, and her passion even extends to her defense of Boston’s bagels against the remarks of the “cocky” New Yorkers that often visit Bagelsaurus. When asked about these customers, Mary immediately responded with her own disapproval of the opposing side’s attitude.
“They always seem to preface things with ‘We’re from New York,’” she said, laughing. “Apparently, that means something. Sarah and I went on a bagel tour of New York, and there are bad bagels in New York. I mean, there are bad bagels everywhere, but New York isn’t a mecca where every bagel you see is going to be the most amazing specimen of all time. It’s just not like that.”
Mary’s friend Sarah, who sat across the bakery while typing on her laptop, paused and interjected, “I mean, there are just a lot of different styles.”
Slowing down to reflect on her quick response, Mary clasped her hands together and, in an acknowledging tone, recognized the similarities between the passionate New Yorkers’ lives and her own experiences.
“I guess it’s typical to romanticize what you grew up eating,” she said. “For a New Yorker, they’ve probably had so many bagels. I grew up eating so many bagels and loved them too. And look what that turned into!”
And the end result is simply remarkable. Though Bagelsaurus operates from a small storefront in Porter Square, its presence in the Boston food scene is constantly growing. Wilbur even discussed Bagelsaurus’s future options, given its popularity.
“We could continue to generate positive buzz and eventually decide to open up additional locations around Boston, or we could slow down a bit and taper off into a calm, neighborhood bagel shop,” he said, reflecting on both his and his wife’s views. “The idea of opening additional locations is intriguing from a financial standpoint, but it would also mean additional stress and responsibility for Mary and me, and I’m not so sure that’s something we’re interested in.”
Mary expressed a similar idea, and briefly shut her eyes. Clearly, running Bagelsaurus has been exhausting. But that does not mean that she regrets any of her past steps or that she would change anything about the bakery. Instead, Mary embraces the challenges that accompany the future of Bagelsaurus, and is content with its present as well.
“Like I said, you just have to drop everything and make sure that the business survives. You just have to keep it alive every day,” she said. “That’s affected my life. This is my life right now. But I was ready for that.”