BEIRUT: Bread Circle, a recently opened cafe in Achrafieh, is pretty unusual compared to your run of the mill pastry shop. You can barely fit five customers into the small space the cafe occupies, and the handful of indoor stools sit just three feet from the cash register. Apart from a neon green wall and a stainless steel stand for cupcakes, the most unusual thing about Bread Circle is what they sell: homemade bagels.
Bread Circle bakes its own bagels and accompanies them with specialty cream cheese, in flavors like honey walnut, caramelized onion and salmon.
The ring-shaped bread product hasn't completely caught on in Beirut and there are only a handful of shops like Bread Circle, which opened just over a month ago, that sell bagels as a staple on their menus. However, bagels may be gaining ground in the Lebanese market.
Owner of Bread Circle Carla Cheaib admit that bagels appeal mostly to expatriates and people who have been introduced to them outside of the country, but she thinks that a taste for bagels is spreading.
"There are a lot of Lebanese who say 'what's this and I want to try it,'" said Cheaib, who wanted to open a bagel shop after living in Boston. Bread Circle sells about 30 bagels per day, but Cheaib said she has dreams of expanding, maybe importing bagels from abroad or baking them herself.
The reach for most bagel shops in Beirut has generally been limited, and bagels are typically sold one at a time, rather than by the dozen, as demand has stayed relatively low.
Tribeca restaurant and cafe in Achrafieh also sells bagels as a baked fresh feature on their menu, but manager Saber Barada said the restaurant has the same limited customer base that Bread Circle does. "Lebanese don't know about the bagel," said Barada. Tribeca has been open for around 10 years, but Barada said they sell just over a dozen bagels per day.
The Euro Deli in Hamra is also a hot-spot for bagels and it reaches a slightly larger bagel audience. Located on Bliss Street, Euro Deli serves the American University of Beirut community, among other local patrons. A Euro Deli clerk said they serve a slightly higher number of around 50 bagels a day.
Bagels were first baked in Poland in the late 16th century as a traditional Jewish food, although they have become widely popular in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Whether bagels can penetrate the Lebanese market remains to be seen, but customers who do know about bagels seem to be hooked.
"They remind me of New York," said Bahia Ahmar, a customer who enjoys the bagels at Bread Circle.