We chat to our client Dan Martensen who is the Founder of It's Bagels.
1. What led you, as an internationally renowned photographer, to enter the world of bagel baking? Honestly, I’m just bad at having a hobby. I simply wanted to learn how to bake a bagel during lockdown. Once I learned how to bake them, I started offering them up to my neighbours. Next thing you know, I have a pop up every Sunday sending bagels around London. I guess it was a nice escape from Photography for a little while when things were kind of slow due to the pandemic. Fast forward, I thought it would be fun to open a little shop, have a place I can go and sit and work and occasionally have a bagel and a cup of coffee. I never thought I’d make any money doing it and I never thought it would be this popular.
Now I can’t believe my eyes when I come to the shop every time. I have to pinch myself seeing the queue and everyone walking down the street with an “it’s bagels” bag. 2. After a year of perfecting your NY bagels, popping up in Caravan's Brewbar and doing Slerp deliveries, you recently opened your first brick and mortar site in Primrose Hill. What was that transition like? It all happened very fast. I mean, like I said I expected it to be a sleepy little café where people would come and enjoy a bagel. I never expected it to be so busy, so the transition has been really intense. Difficult at times, and also so exhilarating and fun at others. The best way to describe it, is every day I seem to go through the full gamut of emotions. On the one hand, I am ecstatic at the success we’ve had. On the other hand, I’m completely overwhelmed sometimes and feel like it’s all going to fall to pieces… Overall I’m just really grateful for this opportunity. It’s been a real adventure. 3. Since opening, there have been queues around the corner of It's Bagels, every day. Did you have any idea it would blow up like it has? See above. 4. What do you think the secret to such a successful launch was? I’ve been trying to figure this out since we opened! Often we tend to think there was one secret ingredient that makes some thing successful, but I honestly believe it’s been a perfect storm for us. We spent a lot of time working on branding and the small details in the shop and these little things have been key. People see our attention to the coffee cups, the decorations on the wall and the authentic nature of the shop itself. Many New Yorkers come in and tell us how nice it is to be back in New York for a few minutes in London. The Primrose Hill neighborhood is so accommodating, and we benefit from having a beautiful park half a block away. We have lots of tourists and a lot of locals who are frequent regulars. Altogether, I’m really lucky that it all worked out… That said, I think we can do this again in other neighbourhoods in London, so we plan on doing that next. Only then will we know what the secret is I think . I like to think ultimately that it’s the bagels. 5. What have you found the most challenging over the course of the opening? Training staff who have never been to New York, and never been to a bagel shop. That will probably always be the hardest task for us. It’s not common that you have a café or a restaurant in London where people are shouting across the room, with loud music, a very fast pace, and ideally the experience lasts only three or four minutes for a customer. In order to perform at that level you need to find a staff that is in that mindset. Staffing is easily the hardest part of any restaurant and I’m sure most restaurant operators would tell you that. That said, I am very proud of what we’ve been able to do, and we now have a great and able team. 6. Have you found any transferrable skills between photography and bagel shop operating? As a photographer, I have to run a team, I have four or five assistants sometimes, with hairstylists, make up artists, clothing, stylists, set designers… The list goes on. Most of the time decisions come down to me. In that way, and I’ve always said this on photo sets, kitchens and photo shoots are very alike. The only difference really that I find very challenging at times, is the fact that we have customers at the shop… We don’t deal directly with the customers on a photo shoot, which makes it less pressurised. 7. What advice would you give someone wondering whether to turn their foodie obsession into a business? You better love it a lot. Because business is hard and you’re going to need that passion to get you through the hard parts. 8. What are your financial goals for the year? Maintain where we’re at. If we can do this well for 52 weeks we have a lot to be excited about. 9. In terms of personal spending, how do you treat yourself? I tend to splurge on food and experiences. I’ll happily spend a lot of money on a great meal. I don’t really do a lot of shopping usually. Maybe a new pair of sneakers or something but for me it’s all about a nice night out with friends or a weekend away with my family. 10. Which restaurants are on your hit list for the end of 2023? I’m really eager to get to Mountain. Everyone’s raving about it. I recently went to Singburi, which blew my mind. Now I want to go every night and I don’t think I can even get a table until 2024!