Photo courtesy Christina Darling
Christina Darling, owner of Darling & Company Handcrafted Bagels, stands with two of her creations. A canceled trip to New York Center resulted in Darling’s foray into bagel making and her eventual new business.
Photo courtesy Christina Darling Christina Darling, owner of Darling & Company Handcrafted Bagels, stands with two of her creations. A canceled trip to New York Center resulted in Darling’s foray into bagel making and her eventual new business.
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Christina Darling’s 2021 pandemic BINGO card didn’t include starting a new career by launching her own bagel business, Darling & Company Handcrafted Bagels. 

After the COVID-19 pandemic derailed a trip to New York City with her brother, where eating bagels featured prominently on the itinerary, Darling said, instead of abandoning her gustatory explorations, she decided to take bagels into her own hands, literally, by learning to make her own.

“I said, ‘No, I can do it,’ ”Darling said.

Up until that point, Darling had never done anything more than eat a bagel, let alone consider making a career out of them. Soon after beginning, however, Darling said she was determined to master the bready treats.

Eating a bagel and baking them, however, are very different things.

“I learned a lot on YouTube,” Darling said, adding she watched videos on bagel making frame by frame until she mastered a technique. Hand rolling her creations, she said, is something she is still perfecting.

Still, Darling was satisfied enough with her progress after her first weeks of practice that she started using her family and friends as test subjects. It was at that time that she debated whether her bagels could become a source of income.

Darling said she has worked in numerous jobs throughout her adult life, including at her parents’ publishing company, and was debating working for a non-profit after volunteering at a hospital, but she wasn’t sure if she would be happy. Then the pandemic hit, and Darling put future career plans on hold while she went into quarantine at her family’s home in Denny-Blaine.

After gaining confidence in her bagel-making skills, and ever mindful of a need for income, Darling said she thought it was worthwhile seeing if her bagels would pay the bills.

“I found I really had a reception that I needed with my bagels,” she said.

Darling said she was also pleasantly surprised to discover that Seattle residents were clamoring for bagels.

“It’s like bagels have a special power that’s interesting,” she said. “The people that care, care a lot.”

Darling said residents’ hunger for bagels resulted in a business boom during the pandemic with pop-up bagel shops becoming popular in the region during the past year and many turning into brick-and-mortar stores.

“It turns out it’s an extremely thriving business,” she said.

Darling said she quickly found her niche in that scene, adding that even though she is new to the business, other bagel makers have been kind and welcoming, offering her tips and camaraderie in the process. And even though each bagel maker is trying to make money,  they don’t view each other as competitors, Darling said, primarily because bagel popularity is a matter of taste.

Compared with others’, Darling said her bagels are slightly crispy on the outside but have a good chew to them, while other bagel makers go for a crunchier exterior.

With a year behind her, Darling said she is satisfied with her career as a bagel maker. Darling said she cannot call herself a baker because her sole focus is bagels and bagel making a specialized skill. She has no time to venture into other areas of baking because not  only are bagels labor intensive, taking two to three days to finish a batch from start to finish, they are also temperamental in nature.

Darling said depending on the day, a batch of bagels will come out beautifully golden brown, perfectly formed and delicious. The next day, however, even following the same recipe and using the same baking conditions will produce a batch of bagels that are flat, colorless and bland, Darling said. While she doesn’t delight in hearing about others’ oven struggles, it makes her feel better knowing she is not alone.

“Bagels are just hard to make,” she said. “They’re so multi-layered in their challenges.”

Darling said she is also still growing as a bagel maker and hopes to increase the variety of bagels she sells either as standalones in an order or as the base for her sandwiches she sells at her bagel pop-ups on weekends outside of breweries with other like-minded entrepreneurs.

Darling said she is in no rush to grow her business by taking on an employee or move into her own brick-and-mortar, content, at least for now, to work out of a commercial kitchen in Rainier Valley and operate her online and weekend bagel business without the worry of overhead and payroll. She also values her freedom.

“I like the feeling of working for myself,” Darling said.

To order bagels from Darling, or to see where her next popup will be, people can follow her at https://www.darlingandcombagels.com or on Instagram @darlingandcobagels.com. She can also be reached by email, christina@darlingandcobagels.com.