New Bagel Shop Set to Warm Up Portland’s East End

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Custom-Built Spanish Bread Oven with a Rotating Hearth is Next Tool for Forage to Build Better Bagels and Communities

Founder Allen Smith traveled to France to test-bake Forage’s new bagel oven.

The dynamic nature of fire causes irregular areas of caramelization and blistering on the surface of the dough. The taste of bagels baked that way can reveal hints of char and smoke as well. Together, those inconsistencies can yield a wonderful depth of both texture and taste.

Forage, a Lewiston, Maine-based baker of handcrafted wood fire-baked bagels, is set to open the company’s second location in Portland’s East End neighborhood by the beginning of June of this year. The move is the latest in a series of unconventional steps in founder Allen Smith’s search for not just the perfect bagel—but the perfect spaces to share them in as well.

The latest stop on that journey took Smith and Forage General Manager Laura Posiak to a small farm bakery in Northern France. There, the two ran off-hours experiments to see how a Spanish-built oven with a hand-cranked revolving deck might serve Smith’s latest vision of bagel bliss. The bakery that their hosts ran was one of the few that hadn’t upgraded to the manufacturer’s modern indirect-heat models. These ovens maintain consistent heat while keeping delicate bread doughs shielded from direct exposure to the fire’s flames.

Although the modernized ovens are great for producing larger quantities of bread, the direct fire of the older models works better with boiled bagel doughs. The erratic variables caused by the intense heat of open flames were just what the Forage team was looking to embrace. “The dynamic nature of fire causes irregular areas of caramelization and blistering on the surface of the dough,” explains Posiak. “The taste of bagels baked that way can reveal hints of char and smoke as well. Together, those inconsistencies can yield a wonderful depth of both texture and taste.”

Bringing that Old World baking model back home required importing more than the oven’s ten-foot diameter deck. A pair of Spanish masons arrived recently to begin its custom construction, which is scheduled for completion by May 8th. They are now laying special tongue-and-groove bricks in a spiral pattern to create the oven’s 10-foot cathedral-like dome. That structure is designed to reflect the intense heat that will radiate down to bake the bagels below.

Local masons have been hired to support the installation. The skills and knowledge the two teams are sharing during construction make a fitting metaphor for the kind of personal exchanges that lie at the heart of Forage’s mission.

“Opening the market that houses our flagship bakery in Lewiston six years ago was a move that a lot of people questioned,” shares Smith. “We were in the heart of an economically-challenged town during the depths of a recession, but our faith in both our food and the people who come together to share it finally won out. Our section of town has changed dramatically, and we’re proud to have played a part in that transformation.”

That kind of metamorphosis is already taking place throughout much of the Portland Peninsula, but Smith’s selection of Forage’s East End neighborhood was influenced by its place away from more exclusive retail locations. “The mix of homes and the small, everyday businesses that support them drew us to this section of town,” says Smith. “We can’t wait to join this community. I love baking a great bagel, but the thing that gets me up every morning are the people who come through our doors to enjoy them.”

About Forage    
Founded as “Forage Market” in Lewiston, Maine in 2012, Forage’s obsession with crafting hand-rolled, naturally-leavened, wood fire-baked bagels has earned its distinction as “one of America’s best bagels” in Saveur magazine. That national recognition is born from the company’s fierce commitment to crafting food that brings diverse people together to strengthen their connections to each other and their communities.

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