This story originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.

What started as a way to pass time has flourished into Pamela and Matt Parker’s full-time gig. When the two moved to the peninsula over three years ago their house didn’t have internet, so in their spare time, instead of streaming or internet surfing, they were testing recipes for bagels.

“One day we were going on a hike and we were thinking about what to pack for the day,” Pamela Parker said. “We thought a bagel sounded good because we ate them a lot where we are from on the East Coast. We looked up bagel places near us and the closest place was the bagel shop in Homer. We were headed the other direction so that wasn’t going to work. So we kind of joked around about starting a bagel shop here in town. Since we didn’t have internet we were going to sit and talk about this and it came into fruition from there.”

In their own kitchen, they started to make the dough at night, and bake in the morning — testing out recipes they found from Google searches. As things started to pick up, they began to deliver bagels to homes and offices. Next, they sold their bagels at the Kenai Saturday Market. By mid-summer of 2016, they opened their doors to Everything Bagels’ first brick and mortar location inside the Blazy Mall in Soldotna. After about six months inside the mall, the couple decided to open a second location in Kenai. As the business grew they decided to close their Kenai and Blazy Mall locations. They moved to their current location in Soldotna, near Beemun’s Variety and True Value, in October of 2017.

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Q: Did you know how to make bagels before coming up with Everything Bagels?

A: Pamela Parker: We knew what they tasted like. We wanted to make sure we were doing it right. We didn’t want those smooshy, bread-like ones you get at the store. We’re millennials, so we googled, watched a couple Youtube video, found a couple recipes that we tweaked for what we could find in the area and went from there. The first batch we took on a hike with the Kenai Peninsula Outdoor Club. That was the first time we went on one of those hikes and we gave a bagel to the guide we were hiking with and told him we were thinking about selling these as a business. He ate it and was like ‘It’s OK.’ Man, that’s not the feedback we were hoping for. We went back to the drawing board and tried again. I don’t want to say perfect because I don’t believe you could ever perfect what you do, but we’ve gotten to the point where we got a good recipe. It all started with Googling ‘How do you make a bagel.’

Q: How did the community react to this new product?

A: Pamela Parker: We had good feedback. We surprisingly have a lot of East Coasters that live in Alaska. So we’ll have people come in and say ‘Oh I lived in New York and I could never get a good bagel here.’ We’ve also had some people come in and say ‘These are really chewy on the inside and really crunchy on the outside. I don’t like it.’ That’s cool. You’re used to bagels from the store. This is different. This is not what you’re used to. There’s been a little bit of training in the area. If you’ve never had an East Coast bagel it’s totally different than what you’d get at the grocery store. We make everything by hand. We don’t have a machine that’s doing all the work. We use our hands to make the bagels and we price accordingly. Some people see the price, $2 a bagel, and they say ‘That’s ridiculous,’ but when you see the work that goes into it, it’s a lot. We’ve actually got a person back there lovingly making them every day.

Q: Why did you decide to close your Kenai location?

A: Pamela Parker: We were doing both stores for about eight months. As a new business, we quickly realized that it was a horrible idea to try and open up a second location. We had the opportunity to move to our current location next to The Fitness Place and Beemun’s and we thought it was a great time to move out of the Blazy Mall and close our Kenai store. I’m sure everybody else knows this, but one of the things we’ve learned is that location is huge. You could have the greatest product in the world, but if people can’t easily find you and get to you it’s not going to help. We’ve been much more visible in our current location than we were at our two previous ones and I think the proximity to the highway really helps. The foot traffic we also get being next to established businesses really helps. People would ask where we were when we were in the Blazy Mall and we’d say ‘Oh we’re in the Blazy Mall’ and they’d say, ‘I’ve lived here for 40 years and I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ Now you say Beemun’s and people say ‘Oh I know exactly where that is. I’ll be there in a couple minutes.’

Q: How do you keep your menu varied?

A: Pamela Parker: The menu itself stays the same, and every week we try and do a special bagel flavor and a special cream cheese flavor. One thing we realized when we first got started was that we were biting off more than we could chew by trying to do a special soup, sandwich, cream cheese and bagel every week. It’s like, let’s stick to what we’re good at. Keep it simple, and the more proficient we get with producing our product then we can start to add extras. Once we nail down our recipe, then we can add a special flavor every week, which we’ve done and we’ve been really successful with that. It was something we noticed early on that we were trying to take on too much trying to be so unique and new every single week. Some of the menu has evolved based on what our customers ask for. We can’t be everything for all people. So sure, if customers come in and ask for a gluten-free bagel, we did that because so many customers were asking for it. But if one person comes in and asks if we can do a spinach wrap, we’re probably not going to add a spinach wrap to our menu because we do bagels and we try to do them as well as we can. We’re not a spinach wrap company. We have a lot of other businesses in town that do everything, and because they have expanded their menu to do so many different cuisines and items, it’s like, what are you actually good at? It’s like, let’s just do what we do and do it really well.

Reach Victoria Petersen at vpetersen@peninsulaclarion.com.

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