Back in the age of big hair, Bon Jovi, and Pac-Man, a small bakery planted its roots in Burlington, Vermont, with the goal of bringing New York–style bagels to its founders’ neighborhood. The originators of the Bruegger’s Bagels concept had no idea that their bagels would eventually be in many neighborhoods across the country.
This year commemorates not only Bruegger’s 30th anniversary, but also the brand’s 300-store milestone. The company now has stores in 26 states, the District of Columbia, and Canada.
“I think the key [to Bruegger’s success] has always been knowing who we are,” says Paul Carolan, chief development officer for Bruegger’s. “We’re not trying to be everything to everybody.”
Many things have changed since the early ’80s, Carolan says, but Bruegger’s product is not one of them.
“The core of who Bruegger’s is, is a boiled, baked bagel with the best ingredients possible and the freshest ingredients possible,” Carolan says. “We also only use dairy products coming out of Vermont to maintain that consistency and quality.”
Carolan says Bruegger’s has also evolved, adding new products and applying modern baking techniques. Bruegger’s menu now features a variety of coffee drinks, sandwiches, salads, soups, and desserts in addition to its signature bagels. When the first shop opened in Burlington, dough was prepared daily in the kitchen, Carolan says. Now, in order to provide consistency in all stores, Bruegger’s manufactures its dough in a raw dough state, flash-freezes the product, and distributes it to each franchisee.
Another Bruegger’s signature that has evolved in the last 30 years is its vintage store design.
“In the store design, we try to maintain the heritage of back in the original days, when [cofounder] Nord Brue started in historical buildings that had brick,” Carolan says. “If we look at the evolution of our prototype, we’re ensuring that we keep those core elements in it that were there from the beginning. We don’t try to be Panera Bread-esque, if you will; we want to be who we are.”
Carolan believes the brand has done a stellar job preserving its heritage while also adapting to the modern foodservice industry, the most recent adaptation being expansion into nontraditional settings.
“If you can grow in a nontraditional environment in today’s world, that says you are still a very relevant brand to today’s consumers, because they want you closer to them in their normal life,” Carolan says.
Last year, Bruegger’s began placing stores on college campuses and in airports. Carolan says Bruegger’s Virginia Tech franchise has been very successful and has encouraged the brand to pursue other colleges and university settings. The concept has also seen success in airport terminals. Its Cleveland Hopkins International Airport unit has flourished, and another store will open in the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport this fall.
Carolan says the most exciting expansion Bruegger’s has in the works is its plan to cobrand with Caribou Coffee.
“We realized that we’ve had a great relationship and results whenever our stores were adjacent to a Caribou Coffee,” he says. “We’re testing building a Caribou full-coffee experience inside a Bruegger’s and vice-versa with them.”
By Marlee Murphy