As dawn illuminates New York City, the streets are dotted with bagel shops, their windows heavy with steam as droplets of condensation offer passersby visions of the goodies tucked in baskets inside.
For those unable (or unwilling) to make the trip to The Big Apple, a little bagel shop in Southern Shores offers both the steamy early morning windows and the baskets of freshly-baked goodies.
Barrier Island Bagels is tucked next to Food Lion in The Marketplace Shopping Center at milepost 1. Owned and operated by husband-wife duo Allison (Allie) and Josh Legg, the shop offers New York-style boiled bagels, homemade breads and pastries, soups, sandwiches and fresh juices and smoothies.
The couple met in Corolla before beginning their bagel adventure.
“We had a lot of fun,” laughs Allie. “We both avoided real jobs for the first five years, so we could have winters off to travel. Then life got serious,” she says as she gestures to their children, 3-year-old Noah and 6-week old Josslyn.
“We purchased [the bagel shop] in April 2016 and opened four days later,” Allie says. “We have a bagel background, so this wasn’t a new business to us, but this was an undertaking.”
Prior to opening Barrier Island Bagels, the couple worked at Lighthouse Bagels in Corolla. For Josh, it started as a job but evolved quickly.
“It became more of an apprenticeship, really,” she says. “In any other job, four or five years isn’t that long, but during the summers... none of them had a day off.”
That intense work scheduled hasn’t changed for the couple except, now, their business is year-round, rather than seasonal.
“Since we opened, Josh has had eleven days off. He works every single day. I think that really reflects in our bagels,” she says. “When he’s here, he’s a completely different person. It doesn’t matter how tired he is. As soon as he turns on the oven, gets the kettle going and starts making dough and has his music going, he gets in the groove of things. That makes our bagels special —and we have a good crew,” she says.
The decision to remain open year-round altered the eatery’s menu.
“Our first off-season, all of our local clientele were like ‘Man, we’ve got to lay off the bagels!,’ but they kept coming in so we tried to offer stuff that was a little bit easier on the waistline,” she says.
“Besides,” she says, “I need fruit in my life. I need veggies. Everything at our shop is customizable. You can build anything you want.”
The secret to their success, she says, is simple: A good New York-style boiled bagel must be “made with love, lots of love. That’s what makes our shop different.”
Josh Legg says sure, love, but fresh ingredients also are key.
“The dough is never more than two days old. We proof them, we boil them, and then we have one of the original New York-style bagel ovens,” he says. “It’s a massive unit that’s 550 degrees with rotating racks in it.”
Josh Legg is the first to arrive at the eatery each morning — that is if he even goes home at all, his wife says.
“In the summertime, sometimes he would sleep here. A normal day, he’ll get here around 3 a.m., and then we have one person right now who we just got who will come in at 4 a.m. to help Josh make the dough.”
After prepping multiple batches of dough, the baked goods head for the oven at 6 a.m., “ and he’ll cook bagels from 6 to 6:45.”
The rest of the crew arrives at 6 a.m. to prep the front of the house, and doors open at 7 a.m.
In addition to their retail business, Barrier Island Bagels has a wholesale component that stretches as far south as Hatteras. Island. The company also offers homeowners the chance to purchase bagels for their renters.
When asked what sets the shop apart, Allie says regulars attribute it to the atmosphere. “We’re family friendly. We’re affordable,” she says. “I’m a small town person. [...] I know everyone’s name and what they ordered,” the young entrepreneur says. “I know who has a grandchild or just got back from vacation. I like being able to socialize.”
As she talks, people interrupt to say hi and to say hello or to coo over the couple’s adorable kids. Regulars are accustomed to seeing young Noah skip and play in the shop, she says.
‘Customers will come in with their kids, and if Noah’s here, midway through their breakfast, they are chasing each other around the coffee bar. It’s cute.”
So, out of every business the Leggs could have launched, why start something that gets them up in the wee hours of the morning?
“Bagels chose us,” she says with a laugh, adding making really delicious bagels “is something you really can be proud of because you make it from start to finish.”
Besides. they both like making bagels, and they both enjoy interacting with the public.
“I like being out front, so the fact that he can put forth the time and effort in the back of the house perfecting the perfect bagel, and I go out front and promote it for him,” she says.
“It’s a good team business.”