The hole truth

Why do bagels have a hole? It’s not a trick question – nobody knows. Their design is pretty eye-catching though – product differentiation is what it is all about after all. And when did you last pay for the privilege of a hole in your lunch?

The bagel is not a new lunch time phenomenon – something which Bagelmania, the newly launched London bagel chain designed by Bomber Design Group, will have to bear in mind.

Anyone bold enough to dare to invent a retail concept to supersede the swarming coffee shops on just about every inner city side street probably deserves some credit. The soup shops thought they would have the rest of the summer to test their warm weather concept without hindrance, but will now face a new challenger. Bagelmania director Alex Chesterman plans to launch another half dozen branches in central London over the next 12 months and then go national. Rivals – such as Oi!Bagel – already have a short headstart.

Bagelmania will sell freshly baked bagels, coffee and cakes which may be eaten in or taken away. The signage and identity is red and off-silver grey, with the interiors decked with pine furniture and white walls. Red sofas at the back of the shop divide the waiting area from the eating space lined with window stools looking on to the street.

“Bagelmaniacs” can order fast food style or grab ‘n’ go a la Pret a Manger. Takeaway bags, serviettes and condiments are not branded with Baglemania’s smiley bagel logo: good news if you find it annoying, and a possible branding opportunity. Prices for filled bagels go up to £2.50 and beyond – expensive for a bagel, no matter what’s stuffed in it.

Barracked office workers should all take a moment to appreciate the light fun of the Bagelmania menu leaflet. As well as providing proof that literature and signage everywhere is still all done in lower case, it illustrates the short life span of weak puns. Bagels are the “holesome alternative”. The selection is “mind-bageling”, and so on.

Bagelmania borrows cautiously, sensibly and openly from working models like Coffee Republic and Pret a Manger, rather than aspiring to create a whole new attitude. The designs are a homage to existing concepts, slightly less daring than Soup Works and its rivals, which have sought to really differentiate through interiors as well as food.

The next era of eateries needs to bear in mind that it is not just about what you buy, but where you choose to sit down and eat your food. Revolutionise both and you can start taking custom away from the coffee shop sector, not just add yourself to the list of accomplices.

Final proof is in the pudding and the pudding in this case is a bagel. “Good fluffiness – not too doughy,” says one bagel expert. “I am not paying that just for a bagel,” says another eminent food critic. Personally, I liked mine. Plain, toasted, smoked salmon and cream cheese. Not sure about the chocolate chips though. And I still don’t know what the hole is for.

Bagelmania is at 41 Lexington Street and 4 Market Place, both London W1

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