When twin sisters Rachel and Sarah Gross were toddlers living on Bushnell Road in University Heights, their mother would stroll them to Bialy’s Bagels, located just a few blocks away. “We used to go up there all the time and nosh on bagels,” Rachel recalls.
The shop, opened in 1966 by Terry Skolnick, was a popular destination in the heavily Jewish neighborhood. Eventually it was taken over by Skolnick’s daughter, Ellen Osolin, and her husband, Mark. Now, 30 circuitous years later, it belongs to the twins.
While they weren’t planning careers in the food business— Rachel studied at Ohio University to be a Spanish teacher, and Sarah attended Cleveland State for human resources—they weren’t novices either. They’d worked in restaurants since they were in high school, holding down jobs with places like Dink’s in Chagrin Falls, the Cheesecake Factory, and the Zack Bruell organization.
When the idea of opening a bagel shop first occurred to them about eight years ago, they spent six weeks working at their uncle’s bagel shop in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, learning dough making, baking, and production management. However, when they came back to Cleveland to look for a suitable location, they couldn’t find one. Instead, they launched a cream cheese business, Clover Road Cream Cheese, selling it at local farmers markets.
“It was a beautiful product,” Rachel says wistfully. “But we decided we didn’t want to pursue it unless we had bagels to put it on.”
They once again searched for locations. This time they heard the Osolins were looking to sell and retire. After months of negotiation, they signed the deal. “They stayed for about three months to teach us the ins and outs,” says Rachel. “Our experience at our uncle’s shop could never have prepared us for it. The volume is far greater.”
A year later, the sisters haven’t made any significant changes to the beloved institution, beyond adding some cold beverages and coffee. (They named the coffee Buster’s Brew after their brother, who died in a canoeing accident in 2003.)
“All of our recipes are the same,” says Rachel. “We added one new bagel dough flavor. We have an egg and cheese bagel we still make, and on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, we turn it into a jalapeno cheddar bagel. And we take the plain bagel, dip it in butter, and coat it in cinnamon and sugar. We call it the cinnamon crunch bagel.”
The sisters have some long-range plans, as they slowly start to make the necessary structural upgrades. They’d like to offer bagel sandwiches—and maybe even eventually bring back that beautiful cream cheese.
Currently, they are kept busy making thousands of bagels a day, not only for walk-in customers, but also for about 40–50 wholesale accounts, including restaurants, schools, colleges, law offices, churches, and synagogues. They make dough seven days a week with a wholesale team that works overnight. (Rachel and Sarah don’t arrive until 5am).
What’s special about Bialys, other than it being a beloved tradition, is “that we have the best bagels in Cleveland,” Rachel says proudly. “They’re made fresh daily. The big chains, their bagels are not made in house. Only one or two other bagel shops in Cleveland do that.”
Bialy’s Bagels is located at 2267 Warrensville Center Road in University Heights and is open from 5:30am–3pm seven days a week. For more information, visit BialysBagels.com or call 216.371.1088.