LIFE in the Kitchen: Blue House Bagel Company
By Natalie K. Pollock
CANTON – There are at least two unusual facts about the newly opened Blue House Bagel Company and Café on the Albany Turnpike: the first is that owner Lia Safalow has perfected a method for making bagels with sourdough that makes them reminiscent of the more famous New York bagels; and the second is that the Blue House might be haunted.
The Colonial era house, painted an eye-catching blue color, was operated for many years as an antique shop. Two years ago, Lia and her husband Mark Safalow decided to buy the house. A day before the closing they met in person with the owner and were told that the house was haunted. Apparently, when the former owner had placed some antique dolls in a particular location, the next morning it was obvious that the dolls had been moved to another location.
The Safalows went ahead with the purchase, but were also told by a customer that when she was at the top of the stairs leading to the second level, she felt a pressure as though someone was trying to push her down the stairs.
The new owners were nervous enough to call a company of ghost hunters from Enfield, who spent six hours at night on the premises the first day of two and reported that they felt a presence, although they were not able to see anything or catch an image on their cameras.
According to Mark Safalow, his wife had purchased an antique proofing board at the house, and the ghost hunters felt some kind of activity on the board. He suggests that maybe the ghost was attached to the antiques.
The Blue House was built in 1806 and served as a residence until the 1970s. At some point there had been a fire in it, and in the early 1900s a newspaper article mentioned a woman who had died in the house.
Lia Safalow reveals that they found 70 pairs of shoes buried on the property as they were clearing the land. During the Colonial era it was believed that burying shoes would ward off evil spirits.
But the couple has not felt nor seen anything unusual since they began work on the property, completely gutting the interior and preserving what original details they could both inside and out, such as a widow’s peak on the fireplace added to discourage witches. They upgraded the plumbing and wiring and added new technology for the menu and operating system.
Mark Safalow is a doctor at the UConn Health Center, but he and his wife wanted to start a business. Their son Matthew is entrepreneurial and had visited the house when it sold antiques. The family had talked about perhaps opening a breakfast café, and when the house came on the market Matthew suggested selling bagels.
“There are no good bagel places where we can get a New York-style bagel. I was born in New York City and grew up in West Hartford [so I know the difference]. Most people appreciate high quality here. It’s amazing how many bagel snobs there are here,” said Dr. Safalow.
When their two sons were much younger, Lia Safalow would buy them quick bagel sandwiches for lunch but had to go to a gourmet coffee shop to find coffee she enjoyed. She is the former director of operations with Velocity Urgent Care, who loves baking and being creative with what she bakes.
Their new shop has sourdough bagels made with unbleached and unbromated flour and the best quality ingredients, as well as the best quality coffee they can find. Their younger son Ben helps with making the dough from time to time, which is a three-day process the way his mother makes it. Most shops do not follow her methods, according to Safalow.
Q. Lia, how long have you worked in this industry?
A. I had been baking bagels for two years as a hobby before we decided to operate a bagel café and I hired a bagel consultant.
Q. What is your most popular bagel?
A. The most popular are the everything, plain, and the rosemary with olive oil bagels. The least popular is za’atar. When people buy it the first time they don’t know if they will like it, but then they buy it again. We open at 7:00 a.m. and by 10:00 we sell out.
Q. What is your personal favorite?
A. Lia loves the za’atar bagel, and Mark’s favorite is the poppyseed.
Q. What is your “secret weapon” ingredient?
A. Lia: I would have to say the quality of our flour, which makes it more expensive but it’s worth it, and the sourdough mother. Mark: And maybe New York bagels are so good because of their water.
Mark added: I was recently diagnosed with diabetes. I ate a bagel one month ago in West Hartford, and my blood sugar spiked in an hour. I tried one of our bagels later in the day and my blood sugar level was completely flat. Enriched flour is the worst thing you could eat.
Q. What is the one cooking technique that everyone should know?
A. It’s about quality over quantity. After the dough has been proofed and you are forming the bagel, you have to be gentle handing the dough, especially when you pull it off the proofing board. Baking evenly is also important.
Q. If you could take any celebrity chef out to dinner, who would that be and where would you take him or her?
A. We would take Gordon Ramsay to our café and ask him what he thinks of our bagels and our baking process.
Q. What herb or spice best describes your personality?
A. Lia: Rosemary for me because it’s spicy, flavorful and can be pungent. And for Mark, I think basil because it’s mellow and more delicate.
Q. What do you like to cook when having guests to your home?
A. Lia: I love to grill, especially pizza outside, for five minutes on one side. We have an island with toppings for people to pick their own. Then I throw it back on the grill for another five minutes. As a child I would go to grandma’s house on Sundays, and we would make a big vat of dough. Everyone would get some to take home and freeze. So, my mother would make pizzas. Now I bake every day, and I have made pizza bagels with organic basil that is very popular. I grow rosemary in the window here. My family loves gardening, so we always have fresh herbs. VL
The Blue House Bagel Co. and Café is located at 161 Albany Turnpike in Canton and open Wednesday through Sunday from 7:00 a.m. until the bagels have sold out. For more information visit bluehousebagelco.com or call 860-352-2936.