Jersey Girl Bagels Brings A Worthy Bagel To Northwest Suburbs

Jodi George was trying to recreate the bagels she grew up with in Central New Jersey when she started developing the recipe for Jersey Girl Bagels, which she operates out of her Maple Grove home. Although the business started at the beginning of April, the recipe development goes back five years.

“I said to [my husband, Brian] I think I can make a bagel. I’m going to try it. And I just made it up,” she said, researching hydration ratios and techniques. “Bagels have a certain hydration ratio that you’re looking for, and that’s what gives you like that bounce back of the bread and the the crunch/smush of a bagel.”

Jodi George, and piles of her Jersey Girl Bagels. (courtesy)

Jodi George, and piles of her Jersey Girl Bagels. (courtesy)

George explains the very technical term of crunch/smush. “On the bottom, you get this crunch. And then on the top, you get a bit of a smush and when you squeeze a bagel or bite into it, it should bounce back. That’s all the hydration ratio. I just did try after try until I could get the hydration ratio that I wanted, that gave me the results that mimicked just what I remember.”

George couldn’t say what that bagel shop back home in Central Jersey was called. Not because she was being secretive about it; the bagel shops had signs that said Bagels.

“It might have been Ernston Road Bagels because it was on Ernston Road,” she said. “Either that bagel shop in Jersey right up the street or if we were in Brooklyn, visiting my grandmother and other family like then the bagel shop there. I couldn’t tell you the name of it because it just said ‘Bagels’ and we just stop and get bagels.”

The result of five years of experimentation is Jersey Girl Bagels. George posts a link to a Google Form at the start of each week with a few pickup times and locations around the northwest metro – usually in Plymouth or Maple Grove. “Honestly it’s pretty self-serving; it works, usually, around my kids’ schedules,” the mother of four said.

“The bigger plan was definitely to expand more, but there’s been so much demand right now just within Maple Grove,” said Brian George. “There’s still people every week that are like, ‘oh, I didn’t get an order in time.’ We haven’t even fully met the demand of Maple Grove. So I don’t know that we need to expand. Yet.”

Well before getting to the point of starting sales, George got going with an early investment from her family: A Kitchen-Aid mixer.

“I never bought a KitchenAid mixer because they’re so expensive. And I was like so I’m making bread, kneading it by hand,” said George, who had continued the hand-kneading as she started making bagels. “My cousin thought it was crazy; the next day a professional-line KitchenAid mixer shows up on my doorstep. That was very generous.”

But as she ramped up the bagel making, the mixer couldn’t keep up.

“The first week of orders, I was making bagels and the mixer died,” she said. “I picked my son up from school, we stopped at Costco, and bought a new mixer.”

But the death of the mixer was greatly exaggerated – it shut down from overheating. While the second mixer helped, they both kept shutting down from overheating. At least she had a second mixer to use in rotation. She’s since upgraded to a larger, commercial mixer.

But then the next issue was refrigeration. George’s bagels need 24 hours in the refrigerator to proof and space quickly became an issue.

“The first week I took so many orders. I had no idea and did not expect this,” she said. “So the order form is live and we’re watching the orders come in and I was like oh no. Where am I going to put all these bagels?”

They shut the form down early once George did the math on the number of bagels that had to be made and the amount of space in the refrigerators. 

“And we’re really good friends with our next-door neighbors,” she said. “We were in both of our fridges, and three of their fridges, using beer cans to make shelf space.”

The capacity for Jersey Girl Bagels is pretty simple: How many refrigerators can be plugged in without overloading the circuits of the house. They’re about to add a fourth to their house.

“We survived that first week, but I had two days of pickup that week; the next week we did three days and shut the form down at different times depending on the day,” she said. 

The demand has been significant right from the start – each week she makes up to 450 bagels, and she still gets messages from people that didn’t get orders in on time. Orders are also coming from people who aren’t part of her network.

“I was looking at the names of the first week and maybe 50%-60% of the people were my friends,” she said. “The second week was 40%. The third week, I didn’t know anyone.”

George sells bagels in six or 12 packs of a single flavor, which lately have been: plain, everything, cinnamon crunch, blueberry, chocolate chip, bacon-cheddar, jalapeno-cheddar, and rainbow. She posts the link to the forms on her Facebook page at the start of each week, but make sure to check her stories on social media: recently she said she could make salt bagels if anyone wanted to convert their order of plain. 

So how do they taste? Using the time-tested TCJ bagel-rating scale from contributing writer Jeff Mandell: 

Look (out of 5): Do your eyes say, “I need this?”

Crust (5): Firm, not crunchy, and distinct from the guts of the bagel

Fluffiness/Chew (5): Soft and pliable, but not “chewy.”

Taste (10): Nothing else matters if it tastes bad, so this is worth double points.

Intangibles (5): Any special shout-outs that didn’t otherwise get their due.

Look, 4.5: They look great. You see them in the bag and they look the part. They are big; George said she’s trying to recreate her New Jersey bagel and I trust that she did. At $2.50 per bagel, I have no issue with an oversized bagel.

Crust/Fluffiness/Chew, 8: In deference to George’s “crunch/smush” standard, I’m combining these categories. It makes sense, and face it: when you hear the term crunch/smush, you know exactly what it means.

Taste, 9.5: These are a truly excellent bagel. My 15-year-old called the cinnamon crunch one of the best bagels she ever had; she had high marks for the blueberry as well. The everything and plain bagels were terrific as well.

Intangibles, 4.5: The everything topping stayed on well and they hold up great in the freezer for toasting later in the week. Also a terrific vehicle for a fried egg. It would’ve been a perfect five but for the single-flavor ordering (I get why that’s challenging; knowing the exact flavor orders to make is important when you’re baking out of your own home, so maybe a bit harsh on my part). 

Final score: 26.5 (out of 30)

In my opinion, those of us in the northwest suburbs, at long last, have a worthy bagel.