As late as 1993, bagels were the hot young thing of the food industry. In a New York Times article on the fast-food potential of the bagel, Molly O’Neill writes: “Buoyed by its healthful, low-fat, high-carbohydrate nature, as well as its accessibility and relatively low cost, the bagel is poised for its own Horatio Alger story.” The gist is this: Move over muffins, take a seat croissants—the bagel is coming. Another Times article, this time from 1999, shows that O’Neill was on the money; Americans on the eve of the millennium spent three-quarters of a billion dollars on bagels annually, and only half a billion on doughnuts.
How did this happen? O’Neill has the answer. According to George Rosenbaum, a food-industry analyst for the Leo J. Shapiro Co. in Chicago, “A bagel is a doughnut with the sin removed. If you can become… a doughnut proxy in the fast-food market, you are no longer a [sic] ethnic food. You are as American as pizza.”