The Howdy Bagel shop was the most anticipated opening since the extra lanes of I-5. The branding, the product photography, the messaging, the personal journey; it swept us all up and we happily went along for the ride. From day one, there was something about this whole venture that just felt bigger than the bagels that came out of it.
I got to the bagel shop on opening day at 11:00, four hours after opening. There were about 20 people in line outside the shop and, based on past experiences with Howdy Bagel, I was surprised the line wasn’t longer.
My wife and two-year-old son met me shortly after and it took about 30 minutes to get inside. It was an easy wait, though, and everyone else in line seemed genuinely happy to be there. I noticed a woman chatting with some people further up in line and the level of familiarity she apparently had with them led me to believe she had come with them. As it turned out, though, she was talking with everyone that way.
Eventually she made it back to us. She was Jake’s mother, visiting from Texas, and the way she thanked us for coming made me feel like she had been waiting and hoping for us—individually—to show up. She moved onto the people behind us in absolutely no hurry and I’m certain they felt the same way.
When I first heard about the shop coming to South Tacoma Way I was excited not only because this city was in dire need of a good bagel shop but because it was walking distance from my house. It was disappointing to hear every time the opening date got pushed back but not surprising given the gauntlet that the City of Tacoma seems to make every new restaurant run through.
Then finally the real no-joke opening date was announced and it felt like the first time I heard about a restaurant opening back up after quarantine. The experience of seeing the shop for the first time was almost the same too. The music was pleasant, the atmosphere was warm and inviting, the decor was fun, thoughtful, and intentional but not trendy or pretentious, the staff was friendly and remarkably efficient.
When we finally got to the counter I looked up from the menu just in time to see the cashier apologizing to the couple in front of us. They had sold their last bagel of the day and it wasn’t even 12:00 yet.
I saw on Instagram that they had boiled off around 1,000 bagels that day. Even then, I wasn’t shocked and I was happy to sit and have some coffee instead. I knew I would be back and, as always, the bagels would be worth the wait.
We were sipping our mochas and kid’s cocoa at the corner table when a man came up and asked how we were and thanked us for coming. He introduced himself as James, eventually explaining that he was Jake’s dad. His Texas drawl kinda gave it away but we went along with it. He apologized for running out of bagels as if, in a moment of weakness, he had eaten a thousand of them by himself. We assured him that it was OK and we were just happy to be there.
He came back a minute later and said they actually had a few more in the back. The remaining customers ended up getting the last handful of bagels after they did another count. He explained that they were trying to be careful with taking orders and were a little too conservative. He asked us what we wanted and wouldn’t take “Whatever you’ve got will be fine” for an answer.
We ordered three bagels (I got the Grit City Lox) and he came back at least twice to confirm what we had ordered, then asked again a few minutes later when he brought us our order. If you’re reading this Mr. Carter, I promise you got it all right.
I passed him in the hall next to the kitchen a little while later and he thanked me again for coming and asked if we enjoyed the bagels. We chatted for a couple minutes about his visit, where he’s from in Texas, and then about the shop opening. I told him about a conversation I was having with my wife the night before. We felt so much anticipation for this opening that it felt a little ridiculous and I realized it wasn’t really about the bagels.
I told him that the bagels were great (and they really are) but we had been following this whole journey since the beginning and it was such a joy to see it all finally come to fruition. Everything that Jake and Daniel had built had come together so perfectly and it was just a great thing for the community. And this man who I had only met minutes before teared up and put his hand on my shoulder and thanked me. I hugged him then went back to the table.
The last few years have brought massive changes to the City of Tacoma and a lot of hardship along with it. Change is inevitable but the negativity is not. When Jake and Daniel first announced the opening of their storefront in February of 2022, this was the message they put right out front:
Daniel and I recognize we hold a lot of privilege as two white, gay cis men, and have tried to be cognizant of that through this whole process. We know a lot of businesses can come into communities without considering the impact they will have on those already there. We want to ensure that we are a support to the already vibrant community of South Tacoma, and have sought advice and insight from nonprofits, businesses, and community members for how we can ethically and equitably join the community. We acknowledge that the land we will be located is part of the unceded Coastal Salish People, particularly, the Puyallup Tribe. While we have already been strategizing how to best join the community we are moving into, we welcome any feedback and advice. We are here to listen.
In a world of influencers scrambling over each other to capitalize on the next algorithm commandment, it’s so uplifting to see genuine people doing good things and doing them well. They’ve used their platform to spread awareness of important issues and events and I’ve heard stories of kindness and generosity that never made it onto social media. They’ve only been open for a few days now but I’m confident that we’ll see good things coming out of this shop for the indefinite future.