Six years ago if you had told Ryan Probst that he'd open up a bagel and coffee shop where he made every single bagel by hand, he would have said, "You're crazy."
But that doesn't change the fact that on a recent afternoon, when we stopped by Odelay Bagel Co. in Ahwatukee for an interview, Probst was there waiting for us with an excited smile on his face. Looking up from his baking as soon as we walked through the door, Probst motioned for us to come around the back side of the counter. He handed us a pair of rubber gloves as we entered the small kitchen.
"This," he said, pausing to present a circle of dough with a irregular hole in the middle, "is the perfect bagel."
"It wasn't for sale," he added, as if to emphasize the bagel's singularity.
It was a very good looking bagel, with a shiny crust and little blisters that only present themselves when a baker uses long, slow fermentation to make dough. Next, Probst demonstrated how to properly cut such a bagel, leaving us the honor of slicing the perfect creation into two neat halves. As we broke through the bagels thin crust, the knife gave way to a soft, doughy interior, and Probst smiled even more.
It takes Probst 24-hours to make each bagel at Odelay Bagel Co., the bakery and coffee shop he opened earlier this year. Using little more than salt, water, yeast, honey and oil, Probst makes bagels that rise up into handsome, if uneven, rounds of dough, each with a golden-hued exterior and a soft, white insides. The bagels go through four proofs (resting periods during which the dough can ferment and develop flavor) — once as a giant ball, then as smaller balls, then overnight once the balls are shaped into bagels, and finally, just before being boiled. It's a lot of work when you consider that Probst offers more than a dozen different types of bagels every day, and that he's the only one doing the baking for now.
"We're trying to do it, just, the right way," he says.
If you pay attention to the local music scene, then you might recognize the enthusiastic bagel baker from his former career as a musician. Before setting out to bake the perfect bagel, Probst played guitar in Tempe-based band Dry River Yatch Club — he's since left the band, but says it was the band's cello player (yeah, that's right, cello) who helped get him into baking initially. How did he decide to bake bagels, though? Probst says the idea sort of just popped into his head. He had been planning on going to law school, but eventually realized going back to school wasn't a good idea long-term. He was looking for a new endeavor.
"One day, I woke up and I'm like, 'Bagels. Everyone likes bagels,'" Probst remembers. So he pitched the idea of baking bagels to his wife, who (surprisingly) told him to go for the dough-filled dream.
Probst was working in air conditioning at the time, but left his better-paying job to work at Jonathan Robbins, a commercial bakery in Tempe. Though he had a basic understanding of how to make a good bagel (Probst was already selling wholesale bagels to places including Desert Roots Kitchen under the name The Proof Bakehouse), he wanted to learn the science behind the art, as well as the business of running a bakery.
"I knew what was going on with a bagel," Probst says. "But I didn't know why."
He spent the next few years baking at Jonathan Robbins, until finally opened Odelay in early June. For the first few months, however, Probst did almost nothing to advertise the business, instead relying on word of mouth and traffic from the surrounding residential neighborhoods. Already he's established a solid base of regular customers, who come into the bagel and coffee shop and greet the owner by name. Thanks to a grand opening event he hosted in October, Probst says he's starting to see more customers from beyond the immediate area.
Eventually, Probst says he could see himself baking bagels to distribute to local coffee shops and restaurants — but for now, he's just trying to keep up with demand at Odelay. Oh, and the shop's name, in case you're wondering, is a sort of homage to the time Probst spent in the mostly Spanish speaking kitchen at Jonathan Robbins.
'It's the gringo way of saying, 'órale'," he says with a laugh.
For more information about Odelay Bagel Co., visit the Odelay Bagel Co. Facebook.