Wellington West Bagelshop celebrates 40th anniversary

Lilliana poses for a photo near her counter.
Bagelshop owner Liliana Piazza took over the family business in 2019. Provided photo. 

By Charlie Senack 

The Bagelshop and Deli is gearing up to celebrate its 40th anniversary serving customers in the Village. The road to get here, though, was no small task. 

The Wellington West eatery was first opened by Vincenzo Piazza in 1984. Unknowingly, he brought a new trend to Ottawa: When he first set up shop, Montreal-style bagels hadn’t rolled their way into the Capital yet. 

“The Bagelshop was actually my mother, Judith’s, idea. My father at the time was a teacher,” said owner Liliana Piazza.”  My parents went full in, setting a precedent in Ontario law to allow wood-burning ovens, and they created our first shop at only 800 square feet in size — the first of its kind in Ontario.”

It was a family affair. Joe Morena, Vincenzo’s brother-in-law, was already running St. Viateur Bagel in Montreal. He and an experienced team of bagel makers taught the new business owner how to make the traditional bread rolls which originated in the Jewish communities of Poland. Vincenzo was also trained at the Ritz-Carlton in Montreal, meaning he had a deep understanding of excellent customer service already ingrained inside him. 

Montreal-style bagels are hand-rolled, boiled in honey water, and then baked in a wood-burning oven. In contrast to the New York-style bagel, Montreal bagels are smaller, thinner, sweeter and denser, with a larger hole. It contains malt, egg, and no salt. 

Liliana fully took over the business from her father in 2019. The second generation owner said she’s a much different owner than her parents, but said she learned a lot from them. 

The store expanded twice in the ‘90s and has undergone five major upgrades over the last four decades — the last about four years ago. While its looks have changed, the recipes have always stayed the same. It’s estimated roughly 40 million bagels have been served out of the Wellington West Bagelshop since it first opened. 

“We have only ever made our bagels with pantry-staple ingredients, without additives, in our wood-burning oven,” said Liliana. “In this time of increasing unpronounceable chemicals in grocery store food, we are proud to be a place where our customers can feel confident that they are feeding good quality, simple food to their families.”

Related: The Ottawa Bagelshop celebrates 30 years, and 30 million bagels.

To celebrate its ruby anniversary, the Bagelshop hosted a neighborhood block party on April 27. Mini-bagel sandwiches were served for only $4, balloons and face painting were available for the kids, and a fundraiser collected money for the Make-A-Wish foundation.  

Since its founding, the Bagelshop has always been looking for ways to promote community. Last fall it held a concert series, and earlier this year, authors were invited into the space to promote their books. Looking ahead to the next 40 years, Liliana said she hopes to offer up more events like this. 

“It is a great privilege and joy to run this business. It matters to me to maintain its legacy while also introducing new things. There is a balance to growing the business, staying relevant, embracing change, but also maintaining the essence, the quality, the experience that long-time customers have grown to love,” said Liliana. “I learned directly from my parents: be generous, great service is paramount, and delicious food will always sell.”

Bagel facts 

  • Ever wonder why bagels have holes in the middle? There is actually a practical reason behind it. The hole also allowed them to be threaded or piled high on a dowel which made them easier to transport and display.
  • The biggest bagel ever made weighed 868 pounds. 
  • Bagels have been to space. Astronaut Greg Chamitoff took eighteen dozen bagels from his aunt’s shop up to orbit in 2008. 
  • Nobody really knows when bagels were invented, but there are two theories: One is they were first made in 1683 as a stirrup-shaped tribute to Polish king Jan Sobieski after he defended Vienna from Turkish conquest. Others suggest they are similar to obwarzanek, a Polish bread that dates back to the late 1300s.

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