OAK RIDGE (WATE) - Do you know the difference between a bagel and a New York water bagel? People who have lived in the North and foodies say there's a big difference. But don't be fooled thinking you need a road trip to get one.
Hot Bagel is located in Manhattan Place on Oak Ridge Turnpike.
Owners Tom and Donna Sullivan took the Made in Tennessee crew to the kitchen so we could learn what makes their bagels true New York water bagels.
As we went into a standing cooler, we learned there is a distinct process. "This kind of controls the temperature and the humidity and slows down the fermentation," Tom explained.
He said the raw bagels "rest" for nearly a day, giving them the tart flavor they're known for.
Next, the bagels are dropped into boiling water, four dozen at a time. After a minute or two, they're taken out and lined up for baking on wet boards.
"You wet these boards down real good," Tom said. "It helps them get a good crust."
All the moisture from the boiling and the boards helps the bagels turn out plump and shiny, two things Tom says you need for a true New York bagel.
He went on to say it's not rocket science. He shadowed a baker in New York each morning before going to his real job, all so he could learn a few of the secrets.
"I went to work with him every day for about four to five months," Tom said.
Shortly after that apprenticeship, the Sullivans moved to Oak Ridge and opened Hot Bagel. They've been serving them up since 1994.
Donna says she loves her work and her customers. "I love to see people come from Knoxville, Cookeville, Tellico Plains, Clinton, just to get our bagels."
We also learned that in 18 years, Hot Bagel has made quite a name for itself. Letters from the White House, lawmakers in Nashville and even the military cover the shop's walls, spotlighting some of their more famous customers.
Donna points out they've served every governor since they've been open, including current Gov. Bill Haslam. "As a matter of fact, tonight he is getting some. (Oak Ridge Sen.) Randy McNally takes them to him."
Outside the kitchen, it was standing room only. Hot Bagel has a lot of loyal customers, even when it comes to causes near and dear to the owners' hearts.
A few months ago, they organized a charity 5K and bike ride, and their customers came out in droves.
"Lupus is very near to my heart. A lot of our customers have lupus, but our daughter has it, too. All of my customers in this town just came out to support me," Donna said.
They also raise money for lupus through sales of purple cinnamon raisin bread and organic treats for dogs.