PHOTOS BY KATIE NOBLE
Twenty four years ago, Jorge Vinha moved to Boston from Brazil. He came to learn English, and he didn’t plan to stay. Then, his roommate, who worked at a local bagel shop, gave him one to try. It was a classic cinnamon raisin, and it was a life-changing love at first bite.
For a young man raised in Brazil, the doughy circle had a fascinating, exotic air. “I had never even seen a bagel until I got here,” he says. “I didn’t even know what a bagel was.” Inspired, he went to work at the bagel shop part-time while working on his English.
At the same time that Jorge was falling for the bagel, he also fell for one of the store managers, Ana Maria. When the time came for Jorge to return to Brazil, the connection was strong enough that Ana Maria came to visit soon after. They spent a month together, traveling all over the country. “The last day she was there, we said, ‘Ok, this is it,’” says Jorge. “You’re going back and we’re not going to see each other again.”
Of course, neither of them wanted that to happen, so Jorge returned to Boston for college, majoring in business at Bentley College. “Once I came back we started dating, got engaged, married, kids, and the rest is history,” he says.
Jorge also went back to work at the bagel shop, where he stayed for the next 15 years as it grew, gaining experience in everything from baking, to retail, to distribution. “I really learned from scratch how to make bagels,” he says, and he’s putting all of that to use now at OMG! Bagels, which he and Ana Maria launched last year. Together, they have a serious passion for creating the freshest, tastiest product possible.
Ever the perfectionist, says Ana Maria, Jorge spent the first nine months working on the ideal recipe for the OMG! brand. Even after everyone agreed they were delicious, Jorge played with ratios of salt, sugar, malt, and other key ingredients to achieve just the right flavor and texture. The choice of ingredients was equally important: real liquid malt, brown sugar rather than white, real eggs for the French toast and egg bagels, fresh diced vegetables sourced locally through Russo’s. “We went back to the basics with fresh, high quality ingredients, nothing frozen, New York style and fresh every day, seven days a week,” says Jorge.
So just what does it mean to say that a bagel is New York style? It refers to one simple but critical step in the process: just before baking, the bagels are dunked briefly in boiling water. This stops the proofing process and keeps them from continuing to rise inside the oven. It makes for a bagel that is crusty on the outside and chewy on the inside. “That’s what people look for,” says Jorge.
In the OMG! bakery, the rhythm is mesmerizing. After the dough is mixed and rested, long strips are laid out on the table to be loaded into a machine, somewhat reminiscent of an oversized batch of saltwater taffy. Once the dough is loaded, out pops those unmistakable circles onto a conveyor belt. After proofing, then cooling for at least 12 hours, the bagels are boiled then baked in a rotating oven that is constantly full and perfectly managed by one watchful baker. New batches go in, baking batches are flipped, and finished batches are removed when they’ve reached just the right level of shine and color.
All of this focus on quality and care has led to a very positive response from their customers, say Jorge and Ana Maria. One, who was recently trying a sample at a farmers market, declared the bagel “so good it should be illegal.” Indeed, they’ve received the stamp of approval from their toughest audience: New Yorkers who visit their booth at the farmers market. “They really challenge you,” says Ana Maria. “They’ll never say it’s better, but always the best they’ve had around here.”
The enthusiasm of their customers has been one of the most exciting pieces of launching their own bagel brand, says Ana Maria. “To me, the greatest reward is when people try our product and they love it,” she says. “It’s such a joy when people come back and say, ‘I tried your bagel last week and it was the best I ever had.’”
The biggest surprise has been the growth. “We never expected it,” says Jorge. “The intention was to do something really well and take care of our customers. We did not expect to grow in such a short period of time.” And, while growth is certainly good, they don’t want the pace to outstrip their ability to produce the same quality product that they deliver now. “We don’t want to lose on quality or freshness,” says Ana Maria. They also want to ensure that they can maintain a close relationship with their customers, responding to feedback directly and taking care of special requests, a key reason that they decided to make their own bagels to begin with.
Currently, OMG! produces 21 varieties, including classics like plain and poppy, as well as more unique flavors like triple chocolate chip—made with white, milk, and dark chocolate chips—and jalapeno cheddar, which has cheese and jalapeno both baked in and melted on top. Jorge is always on the lookout for the next great flavor though, wondering how he can both innovate and improve. “It’s based in my personal taste but also a lot of feedback from people at the farmers market. If somebody tells me there’s a white Russian bagel, I want to find out what it is, what’s in it.”
Even with all these new flavors and possibilities, Jorge always comes back to cinnamon raisin. That simple, delicious bagel that he first tried is still his favorite. Some things never change.
To find OMG! Bagels visit omgbagels.com