People craving the taste of a traditional Montreal bagel on the west coast don’t have far to go: Nicholas Alexander bakes them for Everything Bagel in Port Alberni.
Alexander and his wife Christine, who opened Everything Bagel a year ago, both grew up in Montreal eating St-Viateur bagels with Swartz smoked meat. Nicholas trained under a bagel master in the Quebec city before moving to Vancouver and working for Siegel Bagels on Granville Island, then owning the Tofino Bagel Company before moving to Port Alberni three years ago.
How they arrived on the west coast at all was purely by chance. “We were supposed to move to New York but Sept. 11 happened three days before we were supposed to move,” Christine said. The borders were closed as the United States reacted to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre. “So we got in our car and drove across Canada. We stopped when we were at the ocean. To us, it was the universe saying ‘stay put’.”
Their friends were always asking Nicholas to make them bagels, so he turned his skill into work. Christine had experience working in a café before she became an esthetician in the city.
Nicholas’s days begin early in the morning, when he prepares dough for the day’s baked goods. The entire process from making the dough, letting it rise then baking the bagels takes about three hours. He has 25 years of experience hand-rolling bagels—when he worked in Vancouver, he was making 300 dozen per day.
What makes the bagels traditional Montreal bagels is the honey boiling—it makes the bagels crispy on the outside and soft in the middle.
Nicholas is a stickler for quality control with his bagels, so they only sell fresh—no day-old product—at Everything Bagel (They do sell frozen leftover bagels to Arrowvale Campground though). They have four varieties that they make every day: plain, sesame, poppyseed and everything. Then Nicholas will bake one savoury and one sweet bagel, switching it up depending on the day of the week. They will do special orders of specific flavours, but you have to order them a day in advance.
“It’s hard in a small town to make everything available every day,” says Christine. “It’s hard to limit yourself every day because you can’t make everything every day.” Specialty flavoured bagels are “usually gone by noon.
“Everything is made from scratch here. When we run out, we run out.” Their salmon isn’t farmed, and their smoked meat is imported straight from Montreal.
Everything Bagel caters events or business functions, and can take special orders with notice. They provide bagels to the Alberni Valley Bulldogs’ junior hockey team, too.
The Alexanders moved to the Alberni Valley three years ago, and took two years to settle in. They have two children in the school system, aged 15 and seven, and community involvement is important to all of them, says Christine.
She had walked into a café at Victoria Quay for a coffee and discovered the business was for sale. Two weeks later, the Alexanders bought it. “It was literally on a whim,” she says. “That’s why the renovations are taking time; we need to earn the money so we can spend the money.”
They have been slowly renovating the restaurant to give it a fresher look. They have been looking for a location to build a wood-fired stove so they can branch out with their product—they’re not allowed to put one in the building where they are located right now, so they would bake off-site—and ultimately, Nicholas would like to train another bagel baker. While they have had offers to provide their bagels to cafés in Nanaimo, they want to put their home community of Port Alberni first.
“What we’re aiming to do is wholesale frozen product (to grocery stores, for example) in addition to our café.”
Although they sell other items, like soups, custom-roasted coffee and in the new year rustic breads, Christine says the name ‘Everything Bagel’ speaks to their roots.
“It’s called ‘Everything Bagel’ because that’s our most popular one.”
Everything Bagel is located at Unit 6 – 4505 Victoria Quay, with a view of the Somass River. Call them at 778-421-0612.