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Meet Michelle Bond of Bottoms Up Bagels

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michelle Bond.

Hi Michelle, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
Sure. I’m the Co-Owner and Operator of Bottoms Up Bagels. Joan and I came to Baltimore nearly 20 years ago because of its community and the opportunity to engage in the city of Baltimore. Our backgrounds are in community development and training and psychology and research, with a collective passion for food and shared vision to create the kind of work environment lacking in our former workplaces. The start of Bottoms Up Bagels (BUB) was really our experience as consumers. With over 160 restaurants in Baltimore, one question haunted us, “where is the customer in all of this?”

In 2015, we launched the Baltimore Diners Survey to help fill in the gaps. Feedback validated our desire to bring back a good bagel. The goal – something quick, accessible, fast and filling – everyday food that is still a treat. In the first year of operation, we handed out a three-question survey with every purchase. This, coupled with our own experiences, helped to shape BUB as we know it and build a loyal customer base.

In June of last year, amidst a global pandemic, we opened our first brick and mortar, aka the BUB Hub, finally merging our open production concept (think, see-through ghost kitchen) with the retail bagel shops of our childhoods. Once 100% nomadic, BUB’s new space has allowed us to develop relationships with local community, improve team morale, produce more consistent products, and expand our menu to include more savory deli classics, served up on over fifteen types of scratch made bagels across a half dozen dough varieties.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
This makes me laugh. Does anyone ever answer, “Yup, it’s been easy going. All green lights for us!”?

Initially, the challenges were just figuring out how this all works – even just getting used to baker’s hours as a way of life. As non-industry folks with no financial backing, learning regulations, finding licensed kitchen space, learning what opportunities made sense for us, and what to let go of, were all part of the learning curve. The one thing that has always helped us is that we’ve known who we were as a business. BUB’s brand has been cemented in us long before we even put it out there, and our approach of seeking and incorporating feedback has allowed us to grow and adjust while also keeping our core values in tact. Then supporting and reinforcing these up and down the line with decisions about who we hire, who we do business with, and what makes sense for the business strategically.

As we’ve grown many of our ongoing challenges stem from being women first. There is so much mansplaining and being dismissed in our day-to-day – whether that’s from another chef, property developer, or food colleague. We’ve had to learn to choose our battles while also pushing back against the assumptions and unconscious biases that many onlookers hold. And, as a queer couple in our forties, we’re pretty used to being on the outside of things and having to find our own way, but the obstacles can sometimes be subtle. It’s being approached as the folks doing something “outside of what’s really going on in the scene.” We’ve constantly had to jockey to be part of THE conversation, rather than “this thing that’s happening over there.”

At the same time, we have embraced operating in the margins and leaned into our strengths of product quality and exceptional service to help have our brand speak for itself. I’m not sure you ever completely “overcome” being a marginalized business owner, but if you put your authentic self out there over and over again, you’ll find a customer base you resonate with. They will keep you going and spread the word to those who may not have otherwise been onboard, and it grows from there.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about Bottoms Up Bagels?
Bottoms Up Bagels is a Baltimore-based small-batch bagel shop preparing handmade, authentic NJ style bagels (yes, we boil them), house cured (kick ass) lox and specialty cream cheeses. We serve breakfast and lunch including sandwiches, locally roasted coffee and house made weekly specials. We also provide personal and organizational catering and wholesale our products to area cafes and restaurants.

What sets us apart is our knowledge of self, attention to detail and belief that high customer service isn’t only for full-service restaurants. We’ve tried to bring this idea of the “mom and pop” off our NJ childhoods to the way we’ve built the business. To be a part of a community in a way that is beyond a transaction. We’ve always believed that despite third-party delivery services and orders of convenience, folks still want to know the person making their food, the ownership they’re supporting and the team they help keep employed. Our products are painstakingly made by hand, but they aren’t out of reach or exclusive. That’s really important to us.

We’re proud to have always been thinking bigger than we are, without skipping the steps it takes to really build a customer base and consistent product that people can count on. Whether it’s specialty menu items (house made meats, handcrafted lox, curried chicken salad, breakfast hashes to name a few) the BUB Roadshow, where we’ve taken our pop up model to other cities, or building the BUB Hub on Greenmount Ave., we’ve been intentional about creating space that has room for everyone in it – team, customer, community. Even when we were nomadic, it was about creating a legit bagel shop[ feel with our extensive menu and service. When people recognize this or give us feedback that speaks to these things, it’s the ultimate “win.”

Our complete menu can be found on our website at bottomsupbagels.com, and we have a slate of rotating specials from a variety of sausages made in house to Gin & Juniper lox or smoked beef brisket. We also offer seasonal bagel varieties and schmears, all made by hand in house. Our shop is currently open four days a week, with delivery three days a week as well. Pre-orders and catering information also available on our website.

Are there any important lessons you’ve learned that you can share with us?
There have been so many lessons we’ve learned. Many alluded to in earlier responses, but I think the biggest ones come down to not questioning ourselves or second-guessing decisions. We’ve had a lot of confidence in our process for determining the “big” things – starting the business, making the move to a brick and mortar, increasing production, etc. – but in retrospect have spent way too much time and energy giving credence to things we know weren’t the best fit for us in the day-to-day.

Whether that was a tough staffing or event partner choice, or even daily operations and management. We’ve had to constantly learn and reinforce our boundaries and stand by them. As women, and tough women, we still fall into this role of validating every else’s needs before our own, and in when “our own” is the business, those can be hard lessons to learn. We’ve tried to be clear and direct without equivocating, but as people who care deeply about what we’re doing and who we’re doing it with, that can be easier said than done.

Pricing:

  • Bagel Sandwiches $3-12
  • 1/2 Dozen Bagels $10
  • House Cured Lox $17.50/8oz
  • Locally brewed coffee $2.50-$6
  • House Made Spreads $5-7.50

Contact Info:

Image Credits
The Bizarre LLC, Central Baltimore Partnership, Nikita Custer

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