Fred the Baker’s alarm would go off at 3:30 a.m. because it was “Time to make the donuts.”
Just like the Dunkin’ Donuts commercials, George Blanchette rises early in the morning in Ipswich. But for him, it’s time to make the bagels.
When Blanchette, 60, retired two years ago, he knew he needed to find a project. With about 40 years of engineering and manufacturing experience, he decided to embark on a new technical adventure: professional baking.
He opened Jetties Bagels in July after spending six months learning how to make them from scratch.
Blanchette said he must have made 100 bad bagels before settling on his current recipe, which he is still tweaking. Though he’s not Jewish, he chose bagels because they’re so adaptable — you can make them sweet or savory — and the ease of making them into sandwiches provides even more options.
He rises before daybreak to mix dough, roll it into circles, and pop them in the fridge so the dough will rise, a process called proofing. He then takes other bagels that’ve been proofing overnight and sets them in a vat of boiling water, turning them over after one minute on each side. From there, the bagels go to the oven, where Blanchette bakes by color. Plain bagels will turn a nice golden brown when they’re ready, he said, while cinnamon-raisin take a darker hue.
“Bagels are really just five ingredients: Flour, water, yeast, salt, and sugar,” Blanchette said. “But there’s quantities and temperatures, and there’s proofing times and sizing. Each is an experiment.”
Inside the otherwise unassuming storefront in Ipswich’s Depot Square, the decor is clean and cozy. Whiteboards hang on the wall, presenting a colorful, handwritten menu of choices. There’s a steady rotation of customers, some taking their breakfast to go, others settling at one of three small tables.
Blanchette peeked through a door behind the counter that leads to the kitchen, inspecting the bakery display, a blue apron tied over his button-up shirt. He was checking to see what needed to be refilled.
“A batch of plain, then,” he said.
Through a partnership with another Ipswich business, Little Wolf Coffee Roasters, he now brews fresh coffee every day. Customers requested lox (smoked salmon) as a topping and asiago cheese, onion, and chocolate chip bagels, so he added all to the menu. He’s been asked about gluten-free options, and experiments are underway. A single bagel at Jetties is just over $1, and sandwiches are usually between $3 and $7.
The shop — which is a 2-minute walk to the commuter rail station — is open weekdays from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m., with shorter hours on the weekend. Blanchette hasn’t taken a day off since the grand opening.
His wife, Joanne, a preschool teacher in Salem, worked in the shop every day over the summer, and still comes in often on mornings and weekends.
“I told him, ‘This would be like 200 trips to Aruba.’ But we chose the bagel place instead,” she said.
Business has been good so far, although it has slowed since school started in Ipswich, Blanchette said. Breakfast sandwiches — eggs, cheese, and bacon, ham, or sausage — and BLTs are popular. At times, he offers specials such as marinated steak tips on a bagel.
“They definitely needed a bagel place in Ipswich,” said Terri Casteris, a resident enjoying coffee inside Jetties. She had a sandwich for her daughter in a to-go bag in front of her. “It’s different than Dunkin’ Donuts. I like to give money to the town — put it back in the town.”
Linda Ayala, owner of Ipswich florist shop Hearts ‘N Flowers, goes to Jetties a few times a week. The turkey and cheese sandwich is her favorite.
“I like that he’s there early in the morning making fresh product,” she said. “It’s a comfortable, stress-free place that you could sit and read a book.”
Blanchette said the experience is still the adventure he’s been looking for. He’s continuing to consider expanding the menu, including adding some soups and chowders as the weather gets colder. He’s working on perfecting an apple cider bagel for the fall. And sometimes, he thinks he’ll expand into the lunch business.
“It’s possible I’ll try paninis next,” Blanchette said. “That would be a whole other set of experiments.”Laura King can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.