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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Milwaukee Chosen for Bruegger’s Next Generation Bakery

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On Friday, April 30, Bruegger’s CEO Jim Greco and executive chef Philip Smith attended a celebration at the company’s Whitefish Bay location on Silver Spring Drive to initiate a three-year, $10 million, system-wide renovation project. Bruegger’s chose Milwaukee to be one of the first markets in the country to receive the makeover, an updated look that will become a standard for its bakeries. For every bagel dozen sold at each of its Wisconsin bakeries from April 26–May 2, Bruegger’s donated $1 to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin through the Children’s Miracle Network.

The “next generation bakery prototype,” as Bruegger’s calls it, features an inviting interior with cushy seating, warm lighting, free Wi-Fi and a large community table. A rustic brick and stone hearth in the bagel display area gives the bakery an Old World European feel, while the glass bakery “theater” offers visitors an opportunity to watch as the bagels are kettle-boiled and baked in the traditional style.

“We’ve learned over the years that people are fascinated by the bagel-making process,” Greco explains. “We’ve had bakeries where people couldn’t see the process and they didn’t like it. Our customers like to be able to see how the bagel is made and know that it’s fresh.”

One of the reasons Bruegger’s is such a success—and it is, with 295 locations in 26 states, D.C. and Toronto serving 87 million bagels and 2.5 million pounds of cream cheese last year—is that it offers authentic New York-style bagels. This distinction lies in whether the dough is boiled in water before being baked in an oven (many devout New York bagel lovers will say it’s the New York water that makes the difference, but chef Smith deems this factor a myth).

During his “bagel cuisine” demonstration, Smith explained that Bruegger’s makes its dough with five basic building blocks: flour, salt, malt, yeast and water. After it’s made, the fresh dough is stored in a walk-in cooler aerated by a fan where two things happen: The yeast starts to develop a stronger flavor, and a tacky skin starts to develop on the outside of the dough. Because the dough behaves differently according to temperature and humidity, the experienced Breugger’s bakers rely on the dough’s texture, sort of like taking a person’s pulse, to determine whether it’s ready to move on to the next stage.

The bagels are then submerged in a 50-gallon kettle of boiling water where the yeast activity stops and the oxygen within the dough starts to expand, forcing the bagels to rise to the surface. The bagels are pulled from the water, placed on a burlap-covered surface and flavored with ingredients like sesame or poppy seeds. They are placed on rotating shelves in an oven the size of a Volkswagen Beetle and heated to 470 degrees. The end result: a firm, chewy bagel with a golden-brown eggshell crust.

Rather than go through the hands-on process of boiling the dough, many bagel purveyors employ ovens that inject the bagel with steam to puff up the crust, a method that results in “a roll with a hole,” Smith says.

While Bruegger’s is known mostly for its New York-style bagels, the fast casual restaurant chain offers a broad menu that includes a number of unique cream cheese flavors, Fair Trade-certified coffee, sandwiches, panini, salads, soups, breads and desserts.

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