More than just a bagel

Tandem Bagel Company opens in Hadley

Ana+Pietrewicz

Ana Pietrewicz

By Morgan Reppert, Managing Editor

There’s always been something incredibly universal about food. It’s far more than a survival mechanism or something we consume for a simple exchange of energy. Everyone has some sort of affinity to it, whether it be the joy they receive from food or the joy they receive from feeding others. The sharing and making of food is built into every one of our lives. It’s the creation of communities, pursuing of courtship, sharing of cultures, celebrations and many communal tables. It means something oddly specific to each human and that’s the beauty of it.

This past summer, I spent a lot of time volunteering at a soup kitchen in Amherst, Not Bread Alone. As a volunteer, I was usually in the kitchen or serving in the dining room. The director, Bob Stover, has made Not Bread Alone an incredibly inclusive and integrative environment.

There was one woman in particular who I saw without failure each week. Every Saturday, we would exchange greetings and waves when I came out to serve. She and I never exchanged words, but a few weeks into my time there, we made an Iranian dish and as I was coming around, she saw the meal, grasped my shoulder and said, “Home.”

One bite and you’re reminded of who you are and where you came from. I was taken aback at first because I had never heard her speak before. Her voice was warm and endearing. This dish was something that was so familiar and grounding to her when everything else was not and this is where our friendship began. After this moment, she began to write down recipes in Farsi and I would use Google Translate to transcribe them, trying to sway a few folks in the kitchen to help incorporate them into meal time. Sometimes, the people that teach us the most are the ones we least expect to. Amaya reminded me how special food can be.

And this is where the story begins. Finding a piece of my home, New Jersey, at the University of Massachusetts hasn’t been the easiest thing and maybe that’s good. I’m glad I don’t run into Chris Christie in Blue Wall or see people wearing Jets jerseys left and right. However, I wouldn’t mind having a decent bagel for once. Luckily, I didn’t have to look too hard; the student cooperative business, People’s Market sold genuinely good bagels and house made whipped cream cheese that were made by Massachusetts’ Tandem Bagel company. It’s rather conventional wisdom among most that you’re not going to find a good bagel outside of New Jersey, but co-owner of Tandem, Chris Zawacki, is changing that.

Last month, Tandem Bagel opened their third location in Hadley on Route 9 in what was once a Sears home store. Upon arrival, the space is welcoming and full of light. There’s no fret over parking and it’s all one level, making it accessible to everyone. You’re greeted with an open space, dining room-style tables, love seats and a pair of French-style doors that allow you to look into the kitchen where they make all their bagels, tea breads, baked goods and other in-house items. The new location is the hub for all their wholesale accounts which include People’s Market, Rice Fruit Farm, Amherst College Dining Halls, Wild Roots, The Roost, The Green Bean, Westfield State University and more.

Above the children-friendly space hangs a map of the United States. But the states are made out of license plates from each respective state. The piece was made by the founder and co-owner, Chris Zawacki, a University of Massachusetts alumnus of the class of 1991 and a mechanical engineer by trade. I had the opportunity to sit down with Zawacki and develop a better understanding of Tandem and their origin story. Zawacki and his wife and business partner Andrea, a west-coast native, caught the bagel bug from Sunrise Bagels outside Portland, Oregon and the rest was history. Tandem first opened in 2013 in Easthampton and their Northampton location opened shortly after in 2014.

Aside from baking and steaming thousands of bagels a day, Zawacki emphasized Tandem’s stress on community engagement and working with local food partners like Mapleline and Arnold’s. Whether it be donating bagels to Relay for Life, Girls on the Run, the Daffodil Run or helping support little league teams, it’s on Tandem’s radar. Aside from community engagement, Tandem has an established network to donate excess bagels to the Easthampton Survival center and are currently working to set up a similar system with the Amherst Survival center for its Hadley store.

Zawacki hopes to continue to expand tandem in Western Massachusetts and forge more relationships with community partners. When I asked if there was one last thing he’d like the readers to know, Zawacki responded, “I hope that you’ll give us a try, I think we’re the best bagel in the valley.”

In my opinion, I’d have to second that.

With the fearful climate that we currently live in, seek comfort in the traditions and the familiarity behind food. Bring your friend a bagel, your professor a coffee and most importantly hang in there. As Tandem’s mission statements puts it, “Some things are just better in Tandem.”

Morgan Reppert can be reached at [email protected]