Greenpoint local Sam Silverman is Brooklyn’s very own Bagel Ambassador. He started New York’s first festival focused on the city’s iconic food in 2019. After seeing how popular BagelFest was, he started his own company, BagelUp, and now gives year-round tours, offers classes, facilitates nationwide shipping, and consults.
Silverman is still looking to grow, and is searching for his first full-time hire. “I’d be thrilled to have it be a local in North Brooklyn,” he told Greenpointers.
Greenpointers spoke with Silverman about his passion for bagels, how he started his company, what fun things it offers, and where to find North Brooklyn’s best bagel sandwiches.
Greenpointers: So you love bagels?
Sam Silverman: Bagels have always been my favorite food. My parents called me a “bagel-tarian” growing up. I ate bagels for virtually every meal.
Greenpointers: How did this love of bagels into something more than a passion?
Sam Silverman: After college, I moved to New York and got a job at a hedge fund. The first time I had a New York bagel, it absolutely melted my mind. I realized that what I thought was my favorite food was a pale imitation of the real thing. It set me off on a journey to find the best bagel in New York.
I lived in the East Village at the time and would take the subway to Brooklyn and all over the city, exploring, to find what people called the best of the best.
Along the way, I had an epiphany. I was at a hot sauce expo in the old expo center in Greenpoint, and I thought that I should go to the next bagel festival. I looked it up and realized there had never been one in the history of New York City. This seemed bonkers because there is a festival for everything here, and the bagel is New York’s iconic food.
So, at that point the obsession for bagels switched from a hobby to a professional interest. If this didn’t exist, I wanted to do it. I wanted to start New York’s first bagel festival.
Over the past few years, it’s grown quite a bit. It started in a community space in Bushwick in 2019. Last year, we had over 2,000 attendees and 35 vendors from all over the world.
It’s evolved into, not just a consumer show to try the best bagels, but also a trade show for the industry where professionals gather for a weekend of tastings, workshops, activities, and a competition to determine who makes the best bagel.
The next BagelFest is October 21-22 in Chelsea. It’s been the Brooklyn BagelFest, but we rebranded, and it’s now in Manhattan.
Greenpointers: Your company, BagelUp, offers more than BagelFest. What other things can bagel lovers enjoy?
Sam Silverman: BagelFest is our flagship event, but we also run bagel tours five times a week, bagel-making workshops, consultations, and shipping with Bagel Point.
Greenpointers: Tell us more about the bagel-making classes.
Sam Silverman: I partner with an award-winning baking instructor, Reva Castillenti. She has been teaching bread classes for over 10 years. Reva’s bagels won second place at the World Bread Awards in both 2018 and 2019.
She and I teach the classes out of Bagel Market in Midtown. She handles the bagel-making side of things. She’s super knowledgable about bread and dough. I talk about the cultural significance and history of bagels. It’s a nice balance, so it’s not just baking, but also learning and having fun.
Greenpointers: Can you give us a preview of your lesson on the cultural significance of bagels?
Sam Silverman: On the tours and in the classes, we talk about the origins of bagels in 1610 Poland and how this Polish peasant food that was born of anti-Semitic roots made its way to New York in the 1800’s and took a foothold as one of the city’s most important and iconic foods. Bagels exist because of anti-Semitic attitudes that prohibited Polish Jews in the 17th century from baking bread. Their loophole to get around it was boiling the dough instead of baking it. Later on, they added baking into the process.
We also talk about things like the Bagel Maker’s Union, the advent of the bagel machine, all the way up to the rainbow bagel, which was invented in Williamsburg in the early 2000’s. We weave the story about how this humble bread made this epic journey and became a symbol of the greatest city in the world.
Greenpointers: Tell us more about your work with local spot Bagel Point.
Sam Silverman: I work with Bagel Point in Greenpoint to ship their bagels nationally. It’s for people who are searching for New York bagels online and don’t have good bagels accessible to them. There is quite a demand.
Greenpointers: You gave up your day job and are completely focused on BagelUp?
Sam Silverman: I did. I’m all in. I was working in the corporate world, last year, and I left my job at Walmart to focus on bagels full time.
Of course it was scary to take that leap from a stable job I loved to start my own business. It’s a rollercoaster, but overall, I’ve had no regrets.
I feel like right now there is a bagel renaissance, and I’m really excited to be a part of it.
Greenpointers: You’re a local…
Sam Silverman: Yes, I live near McGolrick Park. (You may see some guerrilla advertising for BagelFest over there.)
Greenpointers: …can you point us toward the best bagel shop in North Brooklyn?
Sam Silverman: I’m going to be annoyingly diplomatic. I have different favorites at different shops. Bagel Point is the one I frequent most for standard bagel and lox sandwich. We also had a pumpernickel bagel there on a tour that blew everybody away.
Baker’s Dozen makes an amazing sandwich called The Vegan. If I’ve been unhealthy or eating too many bagels, I’ll pick up The Vegan. It’s a salad on a whole wheat bagel, and it’s delicious.
Greenpointers: How do you go about finding a favorite bagel shop?
Sam Silverman: I run an Instagram account called Bagel Ambassador. That chronicles my journey throughout the bagel world searching for the best of the best. The past six years I’ve been running it, I use the same litmus test to judge every shop by the same standard. That is an everything bagel with scallion cream cheese, not toasted, because you should never have to toast a fresh bagel.
Greenpointers: How does it feel to be named one of Brooklyn Magazine’s 50 Most Fascinating People?
Sam Silverman: Validating. I’ve always wanted to live an interesting life. At the end of my life, I want to look back and know I did things I was passionate about. To get external recognition, felt great.