Oak Park resident Amanda Daly always seemed to know what the village needed, predicting ideas for businesses that would eventually open and thrive. After several successful predictions, she told her family that the next time she suggested a concept, they should tell her to actually pursue it herself.
“I think I've always been just obsessed with being a small business owner,” she says. “I didn't even care what it was, just that it connected with my neighbors and my friends and my town.”
An avid amateur baker, Daly had been making her own bagels for her 10-year-old son, a picky eater who wouldn’t settle for the versions she could buy at the grocery store. When she lamented that someone should open a bagel shop in Oak Park, he reminded her of the promise and the concept for The Daly Bagel was born.
The whole family gathered around their dining room table to brainstorm how to make the business work. The startup costs of opening a bagel shop were massive, so they decided to test the concept by utilizing the so-called “Cupcake Bill,” which allows bakers to operate out of their homes. Daly also sought advice from other food entrepreneurs who suggested she build a local Facebook group to allow people to place orders.
“I created a group and added some family and friends and then they said, ‘Hey, can I add family and friends?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, sure,’” Daly says. “That was really how it started.”
Daly made her first two commercial batches in her small kitchen in 2018, but quickly began utilizing a shared commercial kitchen space.
“I was a little nervous about using it at first because bagels are very time and labor intensive and shared commercial kitchens charge by the hour,” she says. “It ended up being really a wonderful experience just in terms of learning how to organize your time, how to maximize efficiency, and what kind of equipment you want.”
For a year and a half, Daly baked out of the commercial kitchen and sold her bagels at pop-ups every other week. But from the beginning, she wanted a space of her own.
“I worked at a coffee house in college and I loved seeing the same people come in every day,” she said. “I loved being in a place where people gathered and shared an experience.”
After a long search for the right space, she found the spot at 130 Chicago Avenue and started a Kickstarter campaign to fund renovations.
“We were just so thankful people came out and supported it in whatever way they could,” Daly says. “It has been one of those renew-your-faith-in-humanity type experiences.”
Due to numerous construction delays, her plan to open in summer 2019 got pushed back to early 2020, just as the COVID-19 lockdown began. But while the pandemic proved wildly disruptive to existing restaurants, The Daly Bagel was able to build its operations around the public health restrictions.
“We kept things as simple as we possibly could,” Daly says. “We only did bagels and cream cheese and drip coffee. As things alternately tightened down and opened back up, we've been able to work more efficiently towards what our customer's needs are.”
When COVID restrictions were fully lifted earlier this year, many restaurants returned to their pre-pandemic norms. The Daly Bagel began experimenting with new offerings, adding espresso drinks along with sandwiches with traditional toppings like lox and whitefish along with more novel options like the Sweet & Tart made with apple, arugula, goat cheese cream cheese, and honey. The cafe hosts monthly “Tasting Tuesdays,” where the staff experiments with new recipes that could eventually be elevated to weekly specials, rotating in unusual bagel flavors such as lemon lavender, rum raisin, and chai.
“All of us have different ideas for what we want to do, or we're inspired by something that we've eaten,” Daly says. “I don't know a single chef or baker or business owner in the restaurant industry that isn't always trying new things.”
While many people took an interest in baking during lockdown, Daly says she was never concerned about losing business to other home bakers. She even ran bagel-making classes as part of her Kickstarter campaign.
“Very, very few people leave a bagel-making class and say, ‘Yeah, I'm going to do this every day,’” Daly says. “Most of them go, ‘Wow, that's a lot of work. I'm really happy I can buy my bagels here.’ I think it makes them appreciate our product even more.”