East Coast Bakery opened in Halifax on May 14 last year. (photo by Alex Rose)
Gerry Lonergan wants to put Halifax on the bagel map. “Why do Montreal and New York own bagels?” he asked. “Two cities shouldn’t own bagels. Why can’t Halifax own them?”
Lonergan’s East Coast Bakery celebrates its one-year anniversary May 14. Since he opened last year, he’s been churning out quality bagels. The bakery came in third in a local newspaper’s poll for best new business after being open for only 45 days – and the voting had started two weeks before the store’s first day.
Although Lonergan is from Montreal, he is adamant that his bagels are their own style, which he calls East Coast. There are a few things that set them apart.
The first is sourdough: Lonergan is the only baker he knows who uses it for his bagels. The second is that his bagels are kosher, even though Lonergan himself isn’t Jewish.
With a laugh, he noted that Chabad Rabbi Mendel Feldman “said if I do become Jewish I wouldn’t be able to open on Saturday, so it works for everybody in the community.”
About his decision to go kosher, Lonergan explained, “If I went kosher, it was another level of auditing, of standards, of quality that I felt a lot of people would have trouble following my example, so it would give me a leg up in it from a business standpoint. But, also, I thought it was the right thing to do, it would just add that extra bit of authenticity to these bagels.”
Halifax Jewish community member Josh Bates helped Lonergan get started. The two met when a mutual friend told Bates he had to try Lonergan’s bagels, when Lonergan was still making them from home.
“In terms of becoming kosher, I also introduced him to the Chabad rabbi who kosher-izes his bagels, if that’s the word,” said Bates.
Bates works in the mayor’s office and, although he didn’t help Lonergan in any official capacity, he was able to use his knowledge to help in other ways.
“He had a few questions around building code, getting approvals, finding a location. I introduced him to the executive directors of a couple different business improvement districts in Halifax,” explained Bates.
With a background in the electronics industry, where he streamlined production processes, Lonergan knew how he wanted his bakery to function and what he would need to make it happen. The entire back of the bakery is open concept, so the customer can see as the bagels and challot are made every step of the way.
It was important for Lonergan to find the perfect place to set up shop, in part because his machines need three-phase power, which wasn’t available in every potential location. One of those machines turns tubes of dough into rings, which are then each individually hand-stretched before being boiled in a pot of honey-water. The machine churns out the rings at a rate of 3,600 an hour, or one a second.
While living in Montreal, Lonergan visited Halifax a few years ago and knew it was the place he wanted to be.
“I came for a five-day trip and I just fell in love. I just said, ‘Wow the people are so nice, the ocean is amazing.’ I just saw lots of opportunity here, and I saw there was a need for what I wanted to do here. There was a need for artisanal bread, artisanal bagels,” he said. “Within 48 hours of that trip, I said, ‘That’s it, I’m moving.’ I came home and put my house up for sale within about five days.”
In less than a year, East Coast Bakery has become something of a Halifax institution. Aside from his bagels and challot, which are based on old family recipes, Lonergan hopes to add hamantashen by next Purim. But even if he keeps the menu the same, Bates said the quality of Lonergan’s baked goods should ensure the bakery’s success.
“No matter how good a bagel is, it’s always better when it’s fresh out of oven…. I like a thin sweet bagel right out of the oven and, until East Coast Bakery opened, you couldn’t get that in Halifax,” he said.
And the challah? “Best challah I’ve ever had,” Bates said. “When I go in there and buy a bag, I have hard time not finishing an entire loaf on my walk home.”
Alex Rose is a master’s student in journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax. He graduated from the same school in 2016 with a double major in creative writing and religious studies, and loves all things basketball. He wrote this article as part of an internship with the Jewish Independent.