Alumni fill California demand for bagels

| 5/2/12 10:00pm

Three Dartmouth alumni, including the founder of The Basement an online platform designed to aggregate various Dartmouth student resources, including the now outdated "Web Blitz" have launched a startup San Francisco bagel company in conjunction with a former transfer student, using online technology and social media to market their New York-style bagels to Bay Area customers.

Schmendricks, which translates to "stupid person" in Yiddish, has already sold out its May 10 launch party, despite lacking a physical store and having collected all orders and consumer data via online platforms, according to co-founder and psychologist David Kover '00.

"We have all known that you can't get a quality bagel in the Bay Area, and we took it upon ourselves to make one," Kover, who dubbed himself "chief authenticity officer" due to his Brooklyn roots, said.

The founders all live in the same San Francisco apartment building and comprise two married couples Kover and Dagny Dingman '02, and Dan Scholnick '00 and Deepa Subramanian, who spent two terms at the College as a transfer student from Smith College.

The four began experimenting with bagel recipes in their homes two years ago. In October, Scholnick suggested the group market its handmade boiled bagels, distinguished by their small size, inner density and crisp exterior. They currently rent the space necessary to produce the bagels.

Kover said displaced New Yorkers' demand for a true boiled, East Coast bagel is the largest factor in the company's success.

"Our biggest task right now is to scale to meet demand," Kover said. "I don't think we had any idea just how many people would react to it."

In keeping with the New York style, Schmendricks offers traditional toppings such as sesame seeds, salt and "everything."

"It's definitely a jaw workout to eat one of our bagels," Kover said.

To offer some April Fool's witticism this spring, the company listed the day's special flavors as blueberry, chocolate chip, bacon asiago and orange maple, diverse flavors that should not fall within the scope of bagel production, according to Kover.

"We kind of follow traditional making techniques," Kover said.

Schmedricks' main source of business comes from "pop-up" events, during which the company's members set up stands at preset locations, according to Kover. The store also caters business events and fields pre-arranged pickups through the software Good Eggs, the mission of which is "to grow and sustain local food systems worldwide," according to the company's website.

Tuck School of Business professor Constance Helfat said that while social media is now nearly ubiquitous in basic business models, it is a particularly useful tool for startup companies, especially given the low cost and ability to reach a mass audience.

"You can get your customers and potential customers to tell you who they are and what they want in a way that is much more different than the old technology," Helfat said.

Newly established stores normally rely on media and marketing to attract customers, rather than on an established culture and dining experience, Anderson said.

Long lines at Schmendricks' pop-up events demonstrate that the company has done well in marketing its product, according to Will Goldfarb, a customer and friend of the owners.

"Schmendricks does a good job of getting the word out through Twitter and Facebook," he said. "They let people know when and where they'll be selling bagels well in advance and always keep in touch with their fans."

Kover said he believes that the founders' inclination to use social media marketing rather than traditional practices is a natural product of their environment.

"We live in San Francisco, which is the capital of tech-y kinds of things, and we saw all those kinds of services as an opportunity to get our name out there and find our customers," Kover said.

In the coming months, the company hopes to expand and will consider the possibility of a permanent physical plant, according to the owners.

Denise Anderson, manager of Bagel Basement in Hanover, said that water quality makes a key difference in a bagel's taste, accounting for the difference between East Coast bagels and those produced elsewhere.

"New York swears by the water it uses to make its bagels," she said. "I think the water on the West Coast is different. It's an entirely different atmosphere and environment. What we have on the East Coast makes it what it is."