Photography by Zach Mahone| Published in the Summer/Fall 2018 issue of Vail-Beaver Creek Magazine
When we last broke bread with Village Bagel’s Connie Leaf in 2017, she was spending most mornings toiling over a hot stove and a convection oven in leased kitchen space at Beaver Creek’s Mirabelle Restaurant, selling authentic New York-style bagels to a steady stream of customers who knocked on the restaurant’s back door. Over the winter, Leaf finally landed in her own kitchen, remaking a former natural foods store in an Edwards strip mall into the valley’s first bagel café, complete with subway-tiled walls, vinyl-upholstered stools and booths, and most importantly, a 25-gallon kettle and a monster oven, custom-made in Long Island, for boiling and baking bagels the way they were meant to be.
Now, no longer required to skulk up to a back door like patrons of a Prohibition-era speakeasy, each morning, bagel devotees queue up to the counter (and sometimes out the front door), order, then wait for their names to be called—or yelled in true New York fashion—then squeeze into diner-style seating backdropped against a wall mural of the Mount of the Holy Cross. There’s often a moment of silence as they nosh contentedly, sometimes with eyes closed. As one patron put it, “I’ve been in Colorado for 13 years, and I haven’t had an East Coast bagel the entire time I’ve lived here—until now.”
Behind a bakery case stocked with 12 varieties of hot-from-the-oven bagels (and as many different house-blended schmears), a block-lettered sign advertises Empire State classics like the “NYC Upgrade”—an open-faced bagel topped with lox, red onions, capers, tomato, and house-made scallion schmear, paired, of course with a bottomless cup of CAW-fee. Village Bagel might seem foreign to anyone who hasn’t inhabited a one-double- or triple-zero-something ZIP code at some point, but for a native New Yorker like Leaf, it’s a nostalgic nod to a morning rite of passage—with a distinctly Colorado flavor. “I wanted it to feel like home, and memories of my childhood, and not necessarily just like you’re stepping into a bagel shop in Manhattan,” explains Leaf. “People come in and they say, ‘You should put up a picture of the Manhattan skyline on your wall!’ But, we look at our wall-size print of Holy Cross and just say, ‘That’s it, that’s our skyline.’”
For the more practical side of the business—like running an actual restaurant and operating on a scale that far surpasses back-door pickups—Leaf’s had help from her partner, Anthony Mazza, a local restaurateur and chef with his own catering company, who now spends his mornings hustling alongside Leaf behind the counter. “He’s run a kitchen and opened a restaurant before, so he knows what he’s doing—just because I had an idea doesn’t mean I knew how to execute every part of it,” explains the Bagel Lady, schmearing a freshly toasted everything bagel. “So many people came out to help me with different parts of this—it really did take a village to open Village Bagel.”