How To Be A Successful Bagel Entrepreneur
Say goodbye to 5 p.m. drinks, weekends and off-days.
“If you really want to build a brand, you can’t just hand it off to someone and tell them they’re responsible for being passionate and building your reputation.”
A few years ago, Jason Parke would never have thought he’d be making bagels for a living— not in his wildest dreams.
After working in banks and startups, the New Yorker has made food his life mission by opening the doors to Schmear, an authentic NYC Delicatessen at Quayside Isle specialising in, yep you got it — homemade bagels.
Not just any typical hole-in-a-piece-of-bread bagel, though!
For Jason, the best bagels must be authentically NY-style: hand-rolled with love, boiled before baked, gloriously chewy with a crispy golden crust.
From tinkering with bagel-making at home to opening a restaurant around his fondest childhood food memory, he’s gone a long way.
Now, let’s talk bagel business.
What’s the story behind Schmear?
“I grew up in New York.
When I was a kid we had our local bagel shop, Bagel Boy. Every weekend, we’d go pick up a dozen bagels. Comfort food was always a toasted bagel, butter and some cream cheese. It was something I loved growing up.
I moved to Singapore about eight years ago. One time, I came back from New York and missed bagels. So I thought, why not try and make it, just for fun?
They were pretty bad at first! They didn’t look good and didn’t taste quite right. So I experimented on different areas and finally found the one thing that was missing, which was a certain ingredient you can’t find in Singapore. I had to import it. That’s partly why it’s difficult to get good bagels here.
I can’t tell you what ingredient it is! It’s a very poorly kept secret but it’s still a secret. Well, you can Google it actually…
Anyway, that made a huge difference and the bagels started coming out tasting good and looking better.”
At which point did you realise it was a viable business?
“I started bringing the bagels to work, sharing them with people, and they really liked them, even proper New Yorkers.
So I put up a post in the Sentosa Cove Facebook group, just asking people to try the bagels and give me feedback.
I ended getting orders every day for three months.
At that time, I’d come home after work at night to make the dough. In the morning I’d make the bagels, deliver them to someone in the area, then go to work.
So I started thinking, maybe there’s a real demand here…”
4 tips for people looking to open their own business:
#1: Test your market
“It was all about market validation. We didn’t jump into this not having done any research at all.
The product is good and we saw that there was lot of market opportunity, after talking to a lot of people and seeing validation from people within this area wanting it and ordering more.
We did our best to figure out if it was something that was really needed, then the option to rent in this specific area [Quayside Isle] came up.”
#2: Know your niche and competitors
“Think about your niche, think about what makes you different from competitors and why you’re opening a new place.
Is it just another coffeeshop with the same stuff that you see in a lot of other coffeeshops, or do you have something truly unique and truly special about what you are doing?
Our niche is bagels and we built the restaurant around that for a family-friendly experience.
I would never have opened this place if it was just American food!
We’re focused on our bagels even outside of the restaurant, be it breakfast catering to schools or supplying to café outlets.”
#3: Have a plan for the future and the unexpected
“You don’t just open one cafe and just live off this one cafe forever. Think about where you want to go with it.
You need to have plans for expansion — what are the next steps, and what are the things you need to do from there.
What’s going to happen if things go wrong? What happens if two or three years down the road, the landlord says you’re doing too well and he’s going to increase your rent? Do you shut down, or are you going to move? Do you have a loyal customer base that will follow you?”
#4: To build a strong brand, be hands-on at the early stages
“You need to have passion for what you want to build.
If you really want to build a brand, you can’t just hand it off to someone and tell them they’re responsible for being passionate and building your reputation.
I think at the early stages you have to be hands-on, because you have an idea in your head on how you want your business to be run.
Everything from front-of-house, how you want your staff to treat your guests, how you handle situations and difficulties…
Some people see it as investment opportunity, and if they can make it work, then that’s great. I just think if the passion isn’t there, it just makes it all that much harder.”
On being an F&B entrepreneur:
“If you asked me a few years ago if I ever had any intention of baking bagels for a living, I’d say no, not at all!
I used to work for a national bank. When you’re working for a huge company, everything admin is handled for you by HR. You have a steady pay check every month.
It’s a very different type of environment, especially in a giant corporation. Sometimes you feel like you’re kind of a cog in a wheel. You can feel like your decisions don’t make all that much of a difference.
[But when you open up your own place] You have to hustle. You really have to work. You can’t skip out at five o’clock and go for drinks — it just doesn’t work that way.
You really have to put your all into it, and you have to be a little bit of everything, especially in the beginning. Deal with staffing issues, hiring people, firing people, and all kinds of other things that you just don’t know or expect.”
Creating a space for the community of bagel lovers in the area
“It wasn’t just a need. I didn’t build this place just for myself. It was an opportunity to do something good for the community [in Sentosa Cove] as well.
What I found interesting in this kind of business is the network you make, and how those you meet are linked to people they know in other capacities, which links back to interesting opportunities.
We’ve met a ton of people from opening this place. Someone from the American School posts on Facebook that people can get bagels here, they get a few people together and two days later, I get an order for 500 bagels!
The people around here knew my wife was pregnant, so they just came together and started giving us stuff. Here, we have a crib, just take it. We have a baby car seat, use it.
We’ve been living here for four years, but there was a community here that we just didn’t know before opening the business. Now it feels like we know everyone.”
Enjoy Jason’s fresh homemade bagels with a schmear of their handcrafted cream cheeses. If you’re feeling adventurous and greedy, sink your teeth into a bagel sandwich or pizza bagel instead!
Tip: There’s a direct shuttle bus service from Harbourfront Bus Interchange that can get bagel zealots to Quayside Isle in double quick time.
We’re an F&B community for people who love what they do. We believe there’s nothing stronger than inspiration in action.