Making bagels and building friendships seem to have something in common for Michelle Goulder, owner of The Bagel Caf, at 631 South Mason Road.
If the customers who visit Goulder's shop daily are any measure, she is adept at both.
"We're all about people," Goulder said. "I know about their families, they know about mine. We've established friendships here."
Goulder bought the shop six years ago from a local couple. She was tired of the corporate world, having worked for Starbucks and Target previously, and wanted to run a caf but was looking for a place that spoke to her, she said. One morning she and some friends stopped in.
A few weeks later she bought it from the owners. They had not advertised that the business was for sale but had quietly hoped someone would make an offer.
The 80-seat caf now continues to grow its business every year. The menu boasts 23 flavors of homemade bagels, a variety of gourmet cream cheeses, deli-style sandwiches, cookies, and several varieties of Katz coffee, among other offerings.
It takes as much as 43 hours, start to finish, for the shop to make a batch of bagels. It all depends on the "proofing"—the time provided for the yeast to rise. Even with the same recipe, the conditions—temperature and humidity—make each batch unique. Some are tough; some are airy.
Goulder said they are constantly trying to refine and expand their recipes. The inspiration for many of the flavors comes from Goulder's own palette. She and her team, for example, are currently fine-tuning gingerbread and pumpkin bagels for the holidays, she said.
A cinnamon almond nutmeg cream cheese was another combination that she loved, so they experimented with it until they got it right.
But the offerings go deeper than taste. This month the shop's plain bagels and some of its cookies are tinted pink for breast cancer awareness. The proceeds go to a local family coping with the disease.
It is a subject all too close to the heart for Goulder, who has survived breast and ovarian cancer and took her last chemotherapy for bladder cancer in January of 2013.
The experience changed her in important ways, Goulder said. She now "doesn't sweat the small stuff."
She has also hosted coat collection drives for the homeless and toy collections for underprivileged kids around the holidays.
Among those who frequent the caf are longtime Katy area residents Mary Sheppard, Barbara Bell, Margie Veuleman and Lucy Smith. They have met for coffee and bagels, since before Goulder bought the place.
They gather around one of the caf's tables every Thursday at 9 a.m.—as if around someone's kitchen table—to talk kids, quilting, dogs, politics, religion and other topics. The last two subjects, they admit, they try to limit.
"They know what bagels we want when we walk in the door," Bell said. "Most of the time we don't even have to tell them."
The group pauses from their discussions to greet the soldiers who walk over from the Armed Services Career Center a few doors down. Veuleman says she has adopted the role of "official soldier hugger."
The self-described "bagel ladies" said they appreciate the sense of community the caf provides.
That the food is good, too, goes without saying, they said. That fact is borne out by their return every Thursday.
Bagel baking timeline
make and mix dough
cut into strips
machine cuts strip and forms segments into round shape with hole in the middle
proof (rising time), varies by bagel style
pull bagels from freezer a day in advance
proof inside walk-in cooler
put them in steam box
bake in the oven
The Bagel Caf
631 S. Mason Rd.