One Bite at a Time: Mass. Natives Take Bagel Industry By Storm
A middle-of-the-night epiphany eventually led Needham and Blanford natives Nick and Elyse Oleksak to quit their high-paying jobs in the New York financial sector and focus their sites on something much more, shall we say, bite-sized.
New Yorkers love their bagels, but Nick was convinced they (and the rest of the country) may love calorie-friendly, smaller, tastier versions even more. The couple created the product, Bagel Stuffins, and the company, Bantam Bagels, offering flavorful ball-sized bagels stuffed with various cream-cheese flavors, including Everybody’s Favorite (an everything bagel stuffed with freshly chopped vegetable cream cheese) and Cookies and Milk (a brown sugar walnut bagel with a sweet chocolate chip cream cheese).
An appearance two years ago on ABC’s Shark Tank, the critically-acclaimed reality show for entrepreneurs, has launched these young parents into a whole new type of success with a storefront in the West Village and a partnership with Starbucks to sell their tasty treats (including in Boston). To date, the business has done over $2 million in sales, more than 10 times their sales figures before they appeared on Shark Tank. Bantam Bagels will also be coming soon to all first-class Delta airlines flights leaving New York.
How do they run a growing business and juggle parenting 2-year-old Chase, who was born right around the time of their national TV debut? baystateparent recently caught up with the power couple to find out.
How did you come up with this idea?
Elyse: The idea for Bantam Bagels is literally a dream come true. Nick had the idea in the middle of the night and wrote it down in his phone. We were so excited about the idea that we started baking bagels in our small Brooklyn apartment kitchen the next night!
Elyse: We wake up early with Chase, get his breakfast started, and get right into starting our workday. On any given day we are answering e-mails, taking phone calls, going to meetings all over the country, really just managing all aspects of the business inside and out. It’s a lot of work, but very rewarding, especially getting to have Chase right there with us for so much of it.
Nick: Everyone always asks us whether it’s hard spending literally 24/7 together both personally and in business, and I think I speak for both of us when I say we would not have progressed as quickly or successfully if we weren’t doing this together. Working with your spouse accelerates decision-making; every issue that arises is resolved almost instantly because we do work so closely. We definitely feed off each other and motivate each other to keep pushing the business forward; it has been an unbelievable experience.
Elyse: I think anyone who is a working mother knows that the idea of “balance” is more of an aspirational, even mythical, notion. I think we’ve come to terms with our own interpretation of creating a work-life “balance” by following this mantra: Do what you can, when you can, and just make it work.
Nick: The juggling act of parenthood and trying to grow the business is not an easy one, but having the ability to spend so much time with Chase while working and having him right there every step of the way is amazing! We are very lucky that we get to spend as much time with him as we do.
Nick: Shark Tank was to date the most intense experience we have had with the business. It is your opportunity to take your business to the next level almost instantly, and there is a lot of pressure to make sure you are prepared to walk down that hallway. The Sharks are as you see them on TV — smart investors who make sure you know your business inside and out in order to prove to them you deserve a deal. [Shark] Lori [Greiner] has been a great business partner for us and we are so happy she invested in Bantam Bagels.
Elyse: Needham was a very inspiring town to grow up in. I was surrounded by a very driven and smart group of peers who motivated me every day when I was younger, and my friends from home still inspire me today. We are a tight-knit group who have gone in many different directions in our careers, but I think our successes all stem from the work ethic engrained in us from growing up in Needham.
Nick: We don’t have any Boston inspired bantams yet, but there have been some requests for a Boston cream bantam, so that may be next!
Nick: Our main focus right now is growing the business and growing it smartly. We are launching in over 270 Safeway grocery stores in Northern California and Hawaii, and just recently expanded into over 1,500 Starbucks locations on the East and West Coast. We are working hard every day to change the way America bagels, one mini stuffed bagel ball at a time.
Elyse: Honestly, starting this business has been the most exciting, grueling, exhilarating experience of our lives, and we wouldn’t change it for the world. If you believe in your idea, our advice is to go for it 100% — there is no time like the present — and there is nothing more fulfilling than being your own boss and making decisions every day that impact the future of your family.
Nick: We both grew up in families that put an emphasis on the benefits of a strong work ethic. That is our biggest hope for Chase, that we can instill in him the same work ethic that our families gave to us, the idea that no matter what, if you work hard enough you can achieve your goals.