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Hidden Gems: Meet Joseph Humel of Rockstar Bagels

Today we’d like to introduce you to Joseph Humel.

Hi Joseph, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
Back in 2008 I was a working musician that took time off to pick up a seasonal job in marketing to make some more money. When the job was done, I had no gigs lined up, nor had I had much money left to my name. I was living in a big house with 5 other roommates. I decided I wanted to try making bagels, just for fun. I missed NY bagels, it’s what I grew up with my entire life and couldn’t get anything close to that here in Austin. I had a lot of time on my hands and no jobs lined up. So on New Year’s Eve, I decided to stay home while everyone went out. I went to bed early that night and got up early the next morning and went to work on my 1st bagel. They came out ok. I had no idea what I was doing, only what they should taste like. Even though they weren’t NY bagels, they weren’t bad and I felt that they were already a better product then what I was buying around Austin. I became obsessed and worked every day at making them, researching like crazy! My roommates loved my new obsession as they ate everything I made. Word got out and my friends started buying them from me. I would make them sometimes twice a day and deliver them to my friends. All I could do was think about getting them better and closer to what I knew growing up. By the end of January, I went and started a small business officially. Although the bagels were not where I wanted them yet, I had nothing else going on in life and I knew if it failed my seasonal job would start around March again and I would be able to survive. So I put all my time and energy into research and practice. I picked up my 1st account in February. It was only 6 bagels, but it was 7 days a week. So I worked my butt off everyday for $6, by the end of February I had gotten into a commercial kitchen and picked up another 2 accounts. I was officially a business with clients. My plan was simple. I was just going to make bagels and deliver them to coffee shops. When March hit, I was already working 24/7. Sleeping about an hour or 2 a day. Research and experimentation was critical. I had to learn everything. I knew nothing of running a business nor of being a bagel maker. I dove in pretty hardcore. I was obsessed and knew I had to make this work, now that I had a responsibility to the few clients I had. Things grew extremely fast for me, I had no social life or music life anymore. Everything had changed nearly overnight for me. I was a business owner and working till I dropped every single day without an end in sight. Just learning as I went. Over the course of the next several months, I grew substantially, I started getting media attention. Being a local musician I knew a lot of people and had their support from the start. I don’t think I could have done it without all of them. By September I had outgrown the commercial kitchen I was in and had to find another to house my growth. By that time I was able to hire 2 employees part-time to help me a bit. The next 7 years were pretty intense and miserable to say the least. Although my business was taking off, the amount of work and stress nearly broke me on multiple occasions. It was a product that had to be made daily and 7 days a week. It was an intense process to do it correctly. Took me 6-8 hours of mixing the dough, then another 6-8 hours of boiling and baking, then had to deliver by 7am. I didn’t have the machinery back then to make life easier on me. As time went on, the business grew and little kinks worked themselves out, I had to learn how to be a better business man and balance the product with keeping the business alive. In 2014 we finally moved to our own building that I could rent and afford. That’s when we opened the retail side of Rockstar Bagels. We are still in that building now, although not the most ideal for our growth we make due and try to make the best with what we have. Pre pandemic we were up to about 116 whole clients and a very busy retail walk up window.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
It has been not even close to a smooth road. It’s been quite the hardest road I’ve ever experienced in my life. The 1st 7 seven years nearly broke me, sending me into depressions and downward spirals, impossible to keep employees or have the product consistency that was needed to satisfy the customers. This is a penny business. I only make a few cents off of a bagel. Prices on raw goods and bills sky rocket and no one wants to pay for it, so learning how to stay alive with little money was always a struggle. The hours are long and endless. The business runs nearly 24/7. It got easier once I was able to get managers who wanted to grow with me and I could trust. When I was able to step away from wearing all hats, it was easier to see the vision. It’s still a struggle financially and having a high turnover in employees.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about Rockstar Bagels?
Rockstar Bagels is an Austin born, but NY style bagel business. Specializing in NYC style bagels, fermented, boiled then baked. We wholesale around town to many types of businesses as well as have a retail walk up window for sandwiches and full menu.

What were you like growing up?
I grew up in NYC, I was a quiet, mostly shy kind of kid. I loved the imagination. I would get lost in mine for what seems like years. I definitely say I was a “nice” kid. I liked to fix stuff, and loved listening to music. Music was a love of mine at an early age. I started playing drums at 6.

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