When it comes to bagels, Glen Spence considers himself an authority. He has been making them for more than 21 years, having learnt and plied his trade at one of the famous outlets in Montreal, Fairmount Bagels, indeed one of the most renowned in the world.
“I learnt how to make it the right way and the benefit of using the right ingredients,” he told the Contact. “And when it’s done correctly, people can taste the difference right away.”
So now that he has opened his own bagel outlet, he has no reservation announcing that he has one of the best tasting products across the city.
“I know it’s very good because my clients are saying it to me and my clients know what’s a good tasting bagel,” he says, brimming a quiet confidence.
His newly established MTL Bagel, which he acquired this past May, is situated at 5452 Westminster in Cote St. Luc in the heart of the Jewish community, where he is selling to a clientele that knows their bagel.
Of course, it takes a lot of hutzpah for the Jamaican-born Spence to drive his stake in what can be considered hallowed grounds, where the affiliation with bagels goes right back to the beginning when the bread first made its way to Montreal. He says he is slowly but surely earning their respect.
But all of it comes with a lot of hard work and dedication that keep him in the store for 15 to 17 hours per day, seven days a week.
“It’s the only way to keep clients coming because it’s not like long ago, when there were only one or two bagel bakeries in Montreal,” he says. “Today we see them popping up all over, so in order to stand out or stay in business, you have to excel.”
He stays at the top of the heap because unlike other bakeries that are sometimes forced to compromise in the quality of the their ingredients, only the best goes into his saying that he “takes pride in every bagel he makes.”
It was around August 1993, when a close family friend, David Bailey (Mr. Pattie), found Spence a job at Fairmount Bagel. It turned out to be a life-changing opportunity for the then teenaged Spence.
He spent about seven years there before, and then another few years at REAL Bagel before he became involved in another business project on the south shore.
Then late last year, he decided that the time was right for him to launch out on his own. The acquired MTL Bagel and opened his doors in this past May.
“It’s a tough business but it’s what I always wanted,” he says. “The plan is to invest about six or seven years of hard work and hopefully, start seeing positive results.”
As it is Spence says, the last seven months have been good, and he is already seeing an upward trend in the business.
Already he has secured an outlet at a LaSalle grocer, Frutta C, which carries an ample supply of his bagels every week. He is hoping to find other outlets in other parts of the city soon.
He says he has one or two clients who make the trip from the West Island to his store regularly to enjoy the chewy delights of a fresh bagel and guarantees that all who come will see–and taste–the difference in his product as oppose to all that is served across Montreal.
Having spent more than half of his life baking bagels, Glen Spence says he will settle for nothing less than the best coming out of his bagel oven.
“I’ve made it my business to bake the best bagels in this city and that’s what I try to do everyday.
MTL Bagel, 5452 Westminster, Cote St. Luc. 514-918-8194.
By way of history: It was first introduced in Poland around the 16th century. It is a bread product described as chewy and doughy with a crisp brown exterior sometimes sprinkled with poppy or sesame seeds.
Montreal has a long history with the bread, which was supposedly brought here by a Jewish baker, Hyman Seligman, from Russia. He started making them in his apt-named Montreal Bagel bakery and grew it into a cornerstone tradition in the homes of Jewish families.
Today, the bagel industry has grown into a U.S. $627 million industry in the United States alone. Canadians are said to be among the largest producers and consumers of bagels, and Montreal is reputed to produce some the best tasting bagels in the world. Fairmount Bagel bakery was opened in 1919.