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Bringing authentic New York bagels to Croatia: The Brooklyn Bagel Co. story

Bringing authentic New York bagels to Croatia: The Brooklyn Bagel Co. story

Authentic New York bagels in Croatia (Photo: Private album)

Five years ago, J. Kent Pepper, a former New Yorker, and his wife made a life-changing decision to move to Croatia. The allure of the country, coupled with the exciting opportunities it offered, made them take the leap.

Why Croatia?

Kent’s wife’s connection to Croatia through selling Croatian wines in her New York shop sparked their interest. On visiting Dalmatia, Croatia, they were immediately captivated by its charm and potential.

Kent explains, “I think everyone who visits likes to imagine what it would be like to make a life here, but what made us decide to actually do it is the great future we see for Croatia. I believe there are so many opportunities to start a small business here that no longer exist in most of the world.”

From Bread Making Hobby to Brooklyn Bagel Co.

Kent’s hobby of bread making in New York led to an interesting discovery. Many expats were eager to know if he made bagels, and it got him thinking. Having missed authentic New York bagels himself, Kent saw the demand for them among the locals and decided to open a bakery in Croatia.

“I’d seen other shops offer “bagels,” but they were only regular bread with a hole in the center. It was important to me that Croatians get a real bagel experience,” Kent emphasized. “Our bagels are dense and malty, and most importantly, they are boiled in water before baking. That’s how real bagels are made.”

Bringing authentic New York bagels to Croatia: The Brooklyn Bagel Co. story

Kent – founder of the Brooklyn Bagel Co. (Private album)

Winning Over the Locals

Introducing bagels to a new market came with challenges, but locals were eager to try something different. Overcoming misconceptions (bagels are not doughnuts) was key to winning them over. Kent notes that Croatians appreciate the bagels’ chewy texture and unique flavor compared to typical white bread.

He adds, “The boiling process gives the crust a chewy texture, and they have more flavor than other bakeries’ typical white bread. Bagels are different, but they aren’t too different. Committing to being different is actually one of the biggest challenges. Locals frequently advise me that Croatians like this or Croatians do that, so I had to be stubborn about my belief in my vision and commitment to not being another copy-cat business.”

Perfecting the Par-Baking Method

Perfecting the par-baking method for bagels was a journey filled with missteps. While par-baking bread is common, the boiling process in bagel-making activated the yeast earlier. However, the effort was worth it.

Kent says, “There are a lot of fat and happy pigeons around our bakery, because we had a lot of missteps on the path to par-baked bagels. Par-baking bread (when the dough is only partially baked before being flash frozen so the baking process can be completed later) is very common, but since bagels are boiled before they’re baked, the yeast is activated much sooner. It was very important for us to find a solution, because we’d like to be able to offer fresh bagels to people all over Croatia.”

Brooklyn Bagel Co. in Split

Brooklyn Bagel Co. has established three shops in Split: one in the old town, another near the ferry port, and the newest addition on Split’s west coast. They offer eight types of bagels, including plain, sesame seed, poppy seed, garlic, onion, everything, cinnamon-raisin, and honey-wheat. Accompanying the bagels are five types of schmear (cream cheese spread) like plain, veggie, scallion, fig and honey, and salmon. They also serve a variety of delicious bagel sandwiches.

“The best use of a bagel is to make a bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwich. We also offer lox (salmon) and cream cheese, ham and cheese, Italian, mortadella, turkey, mushroom, and veggie sandwiches,” he adds.

Brooklyn Bagel Co. story

(Private album)

Expansion Plans and Franchise Opportunity

Kent’s goal is to expand Brooklyn Bagel Co. shops all over Croatia, and the enthusiastic response in Split indicates it’s a viable plan. Moreover, he is working on a franchise program to offer entrepreneurs a low-cost, fresh concept business opportunity.

He reveals: “Our plans for expansion are why we worked hard to perfect par-baked bagels. A fresh bagel is a great bagel, and every location will be able to finish the baking process on site and provide fresh-from-the-oven taste. From the beginning I made sure that everything we do is easily replicable, so that it would be possible for other entrepreneurs to open their own Brooklyn Bagel Co. shop in their city. 

I’m really excited about the franchise program that we’re developing, because it’s a fantastic business opportunity for someone looking for a fresh concept that doesn’t cost much to open.”

Catering to a Diverse Customer Base

Brooklyn Bagel Co. caters to both locals and tourists, with a focus on introducing Croatians to the joy of real bagels. The brand’s youthful appeal attracts students and young adults, making it a popular destination for groups.

“In Split, our demographic obviously changes significantly over the summer when tourists outnumber locals by, I’d estimate, 5,000:1. My goal, however, has always been to introduce Croatians to bagels. The rest of the world loves them, and I’m sure people here will as well once they’re given the chance to try a real bagel,” he says, adding.

“The brand’s look and feel has been designed to appeal to a younger audience; teens and early 20s. In my previous life, I worked in advertising, so I personally concept, design and execute everything Brooklyn Bagel Co. does to appeal to that audience. It must be working, because we get a lot of students coming to our shops in groups.”

Bringing authentic New York bagels to Croatia: The Brooklyn Bagel Co. story

The Brooklyn Bagel Co. in the Old Town of Split (Private album)

Rewards and Challenges

The most rewarding aspect for Kent is when someone declares that his bagel is the first they’ve ever tasted. He takes pride in serving authentic New York-style bagels and cherishes compliments from fellow New Yorkers.

“There’s no better compliment than when someone visiting from the Big Apple says, “Wow! This is a real bagel,” he says. 

Sourcing the right ingredients was a challenge, but their dedication to providing genuine bagels prevailed.

“It’s especially satisfying, because it took a lot of effort to source the ingredients that make bagels special. For example, the garlic and onion we use as a topping has very specific requirements. It needs to be dried, not fried. Flakes not granules. The flakes need to be a certain size. I didn’t want to resort to using close-enough substitutes, so there were times when I thought I’d discovered why Croatia doesn’t already have real bagels. Fortunately, after scouring the EU. we were able to find everything we need.”

Advice for Starting a Business in Croatia

For those planning to start a business in Croatia, Kent emphasizes the importance of having a good lawyer on speed dial. The country’s rules and regulations can be ambiguous, and legal guidance is crucial for smooth operations.

“The rules and regulations around operating a business can be vague and are typically revised in an opaque manner. There isn’t ill intent on the part of the bureaucracy, but the people responsible for enforcement aren’t always provided with good guidance on how and when to apply the law. My lawyer has been every bit as integral to the success of Brooklyn Bagel Co. as our bakers and staff,” Kent says. 

Living in Croatia

Kent and his wife live on the serene island of Brač, cherishing the pomalo lifestyle—a perfect balance to their previous life in bustling New York. They enjoy the chance to slow down and appreciate the beauty around them.

Kent says: “When our neighbor lets a few of his sheep graze in the small field next to our house it’s the perfect bucolic touch. New York is an amazing place. I’m lucky to have been able to live there, but I believe Dalmatians enjoy a better balance in their lives. We really appreciate being able to slow down and savor our surroundings.”

Bringing authentic New York bagels to Croatia: The Brooklyn Bagel Co. story


No Place Like Home

When asked if there’s anything they miss from home, Kent confidently replies, “Nothing.” While he cherished his life in the United States, he’s grateful for the opportunity to embrace a fulfilling life in Croatia, free from nostalgia.

“I had a wonderful life in the United States, but I also have a wonderful life here now. I’m extraordinarily lucky to have had the experiences and opportunities I did, but I’m even luckier to have the ability to drop it all and live my best life in another part of the world,” he concludes. 

Bringing authentic New York bagels to Croatia: The Brooklyn Bagel Co. story

West coast location in Split (Private album)

Kent’s commitment to delivering genuine bagels and his passion for the business’s success shine through. As the brand aims to expand across Croatia, its unique franchise opportunity promises to introduce even more people to real bagels.

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