With more than three decades in the bagel business, John Lamb knows his way around a toasted bagel and schmear.
In June, the 50-year-old owner-operator of Bagel Boys Cafe opened a location in Sandy Springs to go with his two shops in Alpharetta. Bagel Boys is the second-largest local bagel chain in metro Atlanta, behind Goldbergs with nine locations.
Lamb moved to Atlanta in 2000 to manage the Einstein Bros. Bagels at Hammond Drive and Peachtree-Dunwoody Road in Sandy Springs, less than a mile from his newest Bagel Boys location.
He talked to the AJT about his vision for Bagel Boys and why his bagels can stand up to the best the city has to offer.
AJT: So how did Bagel Boys get its start in Alpharetta?
Lamb: I worked for Einstein’s for 10 years from their inception in 1995 and spent the last four years, from 2000 to 2004, at their store on Hammond Drive. While I was there, I got constant phone calls from people complaining about how there were no bagels in Alpharetta. Einstein’s made the decision to push back franchising, and I wanted my own store, so we opened the first Bagel Boys Cafe in Alpharetta in 2005.
AJT: What made you want to open your own place, and what was the process?
Lamb: I’m entrepreneurial at heart, and I wanted to work for myself. We also have a 13-year-old son on the autism spectrum, and it really helped me to make my own schedule and be in charge. On the business side, I hired a consulting firm because I had never created a concept from scratch. They really helped me with my recipes and my menu as well as my business plan, financing, site selection, all of that.
AJT: How do you keep your store unique as you expand to now three locations?
Lamb: The phrase locally owned and operated is on my door on all three stores. I don’t have a strong desire to franchise for that reason. My store in Alpharetta is right next to Starbucks, so there’s one of the biggest national brands in the country next to little old me, the bagel cafe that could. The bottom line is none of these national chains that I compete with can ever hire anybody that cares as much as I do about service, the product, employees or the community. They just can’t do it.
AJT: Let’s talk about your bagels. What makes them different?
Lamb: Their high-end ingredients. The stuff we use is definitely not the cheapest that you can get. It’s expensive. I don’t necessarily have to pass that cost along because we sell a lot of them, but it’s a good recipe. I steam my bagels. I know there’s a lot of New York boiled bagels out there, and I’ll compete for the other 49½ states. I’ll put my everything bagel against anyone’s, boiled or steamed.
AJT: What are the differences in a steamed vs. a boiled bagel?
Lamb: It’s just a different way of cooking the crust. It leaves the bagels a bit crisper. A boiled bagel gets a little chewy, and it’s a little denser. A lot of times they’re also bigger, which means more cream cheese and more calories. So we steam it, and we’ve been real successful doing so.
AJT: Businesswise, what’s going to be the cornerstone of this newest location?
Lamb: Sales are kind of like a three-legged stool. You have breakfast, lunch and catering. Any location for me has to be a home run for two of those three. Catering and lunch are absolutely home runs here. Breakfast is just going to take a little time. Costco across the street and Home Depot have a lot of weekend traffic, so I just want to get into people’s routines. It’s a process.
Keep an eye out for our “Better Know a Bagel” review of Bagel Boys Cafe. Coming soon.