No longer a ‘bagel desert,’ new business is among several bringing bagels back to Anchorage

Amy Nicolaisen sells a variety of New York-style bagels out of her shared Anchorage Commercial Kitchen. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

On the lower level of the Anchorage Commercial Kitchen, Amy Nicolaisen dropped round blobs of dough into one end of a noisy, industrial-sized machine.

“They run through this machine and it takes them from being a lump to a snake, and then the snake ends hopefully get connected on the inside here,” Nicolaisen explained. “And then, bagels come out.”

That old-school bagel former and shaper is the same one used by the owners of Alaska Bagel, a popular shop that closed during the pandemic. Nicolaisen now uses it for her own bagel business, called Wooden Spoons Alaska.

Bagels are having a moment in Anchorage. 

After the Alaska Bagel restaurant closed during the pandemic, some described the state’s largest city as a “bagel desert.” But an oasis of small-batch operations began appearing last year, a movement that inspired Nicolaisen to start selling her own bagels out of her shared kitchen space off Spenard Road, in the old Yummy Bakery building. 

Once the cinnamon raisin dough circles come out of the machine, they have to proof in the refrigerator for two days. So Nicolaisen went back upstairs to sell the dozens of fresh bagels she boiled and baked early that morning.

Amy boils bagels fresh each morning. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Thomas Dosik walked through the door on that cold December Saturday knowing exactly what he wanted. 

“Six Nordic, six everything.”

Dosik had been there before. His wife was actually Nicolaisen’s very first customer when she opened in late October, and they’ve been coming back regularly ever since.

“I’m Jewish. I grew up in New York,” Dosik said. “I have missed bagels for years until she opened.”

Even compared to a New York bagel, Dosik described Nicolaisen’s as “top notch.”

“As good a bagel as I’ve ever had anywhere,” Dosik said.

Nicolaisen said Dosik isn’t the first bagel connoisseur who has become a repeat customer. She has established regulars now, customers grabbing bagels on their way to work.

“People are adding us to their commute,” Nicolaisen said. “I have regulars! And they’re not like people I know, they’re bagel people.”

someone dropping seasoning on bagels
Amy sprinkles seasoning on everything bagels. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

As it turns out, Anchorage has quite a few bagel people. Multiple Wooden Spoons customers mentioned enjoying The Bagel Shop in Homer, more than a four-hour drive away, but they had struggled to find a great bagel in town. 

Several bagel operations are now popping up around the city though, and they’ve been met with feverish demand. Julia O’Malley is a longtime Anchorage food writer who wrote about this bagel renaissance in August, and she doesn’t think the market is saturated yet.

“I think bread during the pandemic became a whole thing, like people got really into baking,” O’Malley said. “It’s comforting, it takes your mind off, you know, the apocalypse.”

O’Malley said in Anchorage, some of those baker hobbyists have become baker entrepreneurs, in a town that is constantly hungry for new, different foods.

“It’s just kind of a really good environment for starting a small, targeted business, providing something that you can’t really get easily,” O’Malley said.

But why bagels? O’Malley said for many Alaskans who aren’t from here, bagels taste like home.

“People who come from the East Coast, people who come from Jewish communities across the country, in particular, have a real connection, there is a sort of a soul food aspect to bagels,” O’Malley said. “Plus they’re just good.”

An especially good bagel, she said, is Nicolaisen’s signature Nordic bagel, which is covered in dill seasoning, a spice O’Malley said has special significance in Alaska.

But Nicolaisen’s bagels didn’t start out so tasty. She has a background in food  – she had a school lunch business and still sells specialty chocolates – but when she first started experimenting with the old bagel machine, the products were inedible.

A tray filled with round rolls of bread, most without holes in the center
Amy’s early attempts at bagel making were sometimes unrecognizable as bagels. (Courtesy Amy Nicolaisen)

“It was a pandemic project like everybody else, but they were very bad bagels,” Nicolaisen said. “I was practicing and practicing and just, bad bagels, like not good.”

Nicolaisen says she would occasionally chuck the failed experiments into a field next door, and even the ravens wouldn’t eat them. Figuring out the science of yeast, the right temperature and time to proof the dough, was a difficult process.

She took a break from bagels last summer, but when she saw O’Malley’s feature about all the other bagel pop-ups, she decided to get serious.

After more trial and error and taste testing from chefs who use the shared kitchen, Nicolaisen finally perfected the recipe and was ready to open just before Halloween. 

She didn’t even tell her friends that day, she just put up a couple social media posts.

“And then strangers showed up! And I sold out in two and a half hours,” Nicolaisen said. “So I was like okay, I guess we have a bagel business now.”

Wooden Spoons offers several different cream cheese flavors, but you’ll have to do the schmear spreading yourself. Nicolaisen is well aware of the demand for toasted bagels and bagel sandwiches, and says opening her own full-service bagel store front is “on the list.”

In the meantime, you can try her bagels with all the fixings from 907 Bagel, a new food truck serving elaborate sandwiches on Wooden Spoons bagels. You might want to get there early though, because they’ve also been selling out.

a portrait of a man outside

Michael Fanelli reported on economics and hosted the statewide morning news at Alaska Public Media. 

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