Finagle a Bagel’s baked goods are carried in thousands of grocery and superstores in 27 states, and the company once operated as many as 20 retail stores. On paper, it sounds like another faceless corporation. In reality, it’s a family-owned, small-scale company more akin to a neighborhood bakery.
The Newton-based company is a small operation with a big reach—and owner Laura Trust likes it that way. Trust invited me and a couple other JewishBoston.com staffers to come visit the recently redesigned, kosher-certified headquarters in Auburndale.
“Our reputation is bigger than we are,” she said, as we gathered in one of the conference rooms before starting the tour.
The big-name reputation is a holdover from the early 2000s, when the company was at its height. She and her husband, Alan Litchman, bought Finagle in 1998 and grew it for the next decade. In 2008, things were going so well that they were considering franchising the brand. But the recession changed their plans. Instead, they entered the wholesale market.
Since then, their wholesale business has soared while their retail stores have decreased in number. (Most recently, they lost the lease on their location in Center Plaza, where the store had been for 22 years.)
But Trust knows it’s just part of the company’s trajectory. Finagle has its sights set on opening more shops, and she noticeably lights up when she talks about one of the company’s latest projects: a kosher café, due to open in May, that will be adjacent to the Auburndale headquarters. She envisions it as a destination where people will linger over their bagels instead of simply popping in for carryout.
As we spoke, Trust’s young son, Jake, who was off from school for Veterans Day, was splitting his time between her office and his dad’s, located just down the hall. Jake occasionally politely interrupted our conversation the way kids do, with a quick question or just to give his mom a hug. At one point he came in to report that Scraps, the family dog who roams the office freely, had eaten his bagel. Each time, Laura stopped mid-sentence and turned her attention to her son, then picked up our conversation without skipping a beat.
When the topic of catering came up, Trust held up a cell phone and said: “Sure, we have a catering line. This is it.” If you call to place an order, you’ll either talk to her—the president of the company—or Susan Gould, director of operations and culinary arts, depending on who happens to have the phone on her that day.
That closeness is a recurring theme in Finagle’s operation. The front office at Finagle a Bagel is only seven people big, including Trust, Litchman and Gould, who has been at the company for more than 15 years. She started as a new-employee trainer at one of the retail shops and worked her way through several positions. Now, her responsibilities include bakery operations, product development and quality assurance. In short, she develops new recipes—like the drool-worthy bialys the company recently started selling—and makes sure the current products stay up to the company’s standards.
And Gould isn’t the only employee who’s been with the company for more than a decade. Many people in the front office and on the production line have been in the Finagle family for years. Nilton, the head baker and fastest challah-braider in town, has worked there for 19 years. When Trust says the company is family-run, she means both biological and chosen.
The small-scale processes are most on display in the production of their bagels. Many larger bagel chains take just hours to make their bagels; Finagle takes two days. Trust insists the extra investment in time and resources ensures they turn out only the highest-quality bagels. She then summed up her and Finagle’s philosophy: “This is the most inefficient, labor-intensive way to make a bagel,” she said with a laugh. “My professors from grad school at MIT would shake their heads in disapproval. But it makes a difference in the end.”