PopUp Bagels is in its “glow up” era. The bagel shop, which was started in 2020 by Adam Goldberg as a side project during the pandemic while everyone was trapped indoors, is now a full-fledged business that counts Paul Rudd, Michael Phelps, Michael Strahan, and JJ Watt as investors.
The brand just closed an $8 million funding round led by NYC-based equity firm Stripes, which funded Erewhon Market, Levain Bakery and On Running. The funding round is meant to help the brand on its growth journey.
Now having grown to four locations — three in Connecticut and one in New York City’s Greenwich Village — since Goldberg started it in his kitchen to pass time, this brand is here for the long run. It was named “Best Bagel” by Brooklyn Bagelfest two years in a row, so Goldberg knows he has something special.
“The bagels were just so much better than anything we felt that we can get anywhere else,” said Goldberg. “Friends and neighbors were all just continuously coming over and asking for more and more.”
His kitchen in Westport, Conn., became the first location of PopUp Bagels. Then, when Goldberg saw the consumer demand for his bagels, he started operating as a popup in various locations near his home. The bagels would sell out in an instant.
“We were selling out our bagels in a matter of seconds online in advance and we had people who were subscribing every week. They would guarantee they’d get a dozen bagels because they didn’t want to get sold out in the preorder system,” he said.
The shops only sell bagels and spreads along with pounds of smoked fish, nothing else. Keeping the menu compact is one of the reasons the chain is working so efficiently. The bagels are available in packs of three, six, or 12 and they are not cut in half. The bagels are meant to be ripped and dunked in spreads like Utz Cheese Ball Cream Cheese or Bowery Farms Basil Pesto Butter, with flavors and brand collaborations changing weekly.
This isn’t the first round of funding the restaurant and retail chain has raised. PopUp engaged in a significant raise last year led by Hollywood producer and food concept investor John Davis. That capital allowed the company to, among other things, expand its retail footprint in Greenwich, Conn., and Greenwich Village in New York City.
This more recent round of capital is meant to help the chain expand its brick-and-mortar presence, which is necessary since all four locations of the brand are bursting at the seams with lines every day.
And, of course, like any Millennial wants for their business, it’s gone viral on TikTok. The chain has over 10 million views on its page, thanks in part to the buzz from influencers like @Sistersnacking.
The chain’s journey from its humble home-kitchen beginnings, to a round of funding to open a commissary, to opening brick-and-mortar locations, to two rounds of funding and celebrity clientele, is something Goldberg didn’t even realize was possible.
“It was a random Wednesday or Thursday, and we were like, I think it’s too hot to make sourdough,” he said of the brand’s beginnings. “Let's try bagels.”
Goldberg had no history in the food industry; in fact, he was in flood mitigation before his foray into the restaurant world.
“I just have so much fun speaking to people and making them happy,” Goldberg said. “I mean, that’s what drives me in life, to see the smile on someone’s face when they’re having our bagels and enjoying them.”
So how does someone with no background in the food industry pick investors? Pure gut.
“I really just want to have a conversation with people,” he said. “Watch how they react to certain things, and if it feels right, then that’s great.”
Goldberg isn’t too concerned about competition either.
“I think the same thing no matter where we go: There are millions of people who love to eat bagels,” he said. “And there are millions of people who like to eat pizza. And there are lots of neighborhoods that have more than one pizzeria. And there’s no reason why some neighborhoods shouldn’t have more than one bagel place.”
PopUp Bagels has been cautious when it comes to growth despite the popularity of the product. But it’s for that very reason that it’s been so slow to expand. The consistency is Goldberg’s main concern as the brand moves to Westchester, N.Y., Long Island, and New Jersey. There are one to two more locations in the pipeline for New York City before 2024, but the rest is still undecided.