Amid the pandemic, Janet Blake was inspired to open Comfort Bagel to foster connection and community during a time when many were apart.

The contact-free bagel delivery service grew in popularity and soon outgrow Blake’s home kitchen. Less than a year after it launched, Comfort Bagel opened a store front at Open Square in Holyoke – and it’s become a go to spot for bagel lovers in western Massachusetts and beyond.

Producer Dave Fraser stopped by the breakfast spot and brings us the story.

Hear Janet Blake speak about a picture that hangs on the wall at Comfort Bagel in a digital exclusive clip.

Read the full transcript:

Dave Fraser, Connecting Point: At 5 a.m., almost all the windows are dark at Open Square in Holyoke, but the warm glow from comfort bagel is inviting.

Janet Blake, Comfort Bagel: Oh, yes, the Old Bay is next.

Dave Fraser: Inside, owner Janet Blake, aka the Bagel Lady, is hard at work, mixing dough and prepping bagels for the oven.

Janet Blake: Either salted rosemary or the sesame.

Dave Fraser: She’s been doing this since March of 2020, when the region was in full lockdown due to the coronavirus.

Restaurants were closed, families were isolated in their homes — and to make matters worse, there wasn’t a good bagel to be found anywhere, according to Janet.

Janet Blake: So, I started thinking about what could I do in my community, what could I do to support my family? And I kept coming back to that idea that I loved bagels and you know, what the heck? Maybe I can figure out how to make them.

Dave Fraser: She started Comfort Bagel as a cottage bakery in her home with the idea of offering contact free delivery of freshly baked bagels four days a week.

Janet Blake: I posted in the West Springfield Community Forum when I got a little closer to what I thought was a good bagel, and I said, “would anybody be interested in bagels?” And by the end of the day, there were like 300 comments — “Yes, yes, yes.”

Dave Fraser: With increasing demand, the limitations of operating out of a residential kitchen, and the easing of COVID restrictions, it soon became apparent that it was time to expand.

In July 2021, Comfort Bagel opened its doors at Open Square in Holyoke. The first day was a memorable one for Janet.

Janet Blake: We had a sign hanging up there that said, “We have no idea what we’re doing, please be patient with us.” We were so overwhelmed.

It was crazy, but we made it through.

Dave Fraser: The shop operates on a Thursday through Sunday schedule, but hopes to expand.

On the day we visited, Janet and Michaela were prepping dough in the back, while out front Theresa and Matt were waiting on customers.

They still offer online ordering and quite often there’s a line out the door.

Janet Blake: So, we’re either here for 4:30, we’re baking. Today, we’re doing about 52 dozen. Once they’re coming out, we are fulfilling all of the pre-orders — so we get a lot of pre-orders. That’s the way people can guarantee they get the exact flavors that they want.

We do a novelty flavor and then people order a ton of them and freeze them — cause you can freeze bagels — our bagels really well.

Dave Fraser: When it came to choosing a location for Comfort Bagel, Janet says she looked at many communities, but something about downtown Holyoke spoke to her.

Janet Blake: I love the renaissance of Holyoke. A lot of entrepreneurs starting businesses here and the — and the spaces are just beautiful and underutilized.

So, when I came looking and I saw this cafe, it just has the exact vibe that goes with our brand. I mean, people come in and they feel comfortable. It’s a warm and welcoming space. It’s, you know, it got a lot of great details and, you know, it just — it felt like home as soon as we walked in.

We have a pretty strong social media presence, and almost every week we get a comment of “thanks so much for coming to Holyoke.” And, whenever I thought of maybe we should open a business someplace else, that with more foot traffic we could go somewhere else — but this has become our home.