Being fellow bagel-lovers, my husband Eric and my daughter Lydia (home for spring break from MTSU) were eager to join the adventure. So we declared Friday, March 8, Tri-Cities Bagel Day. We got up bright and early and planned our route to visit all three shops before our workday began. Our goal was to try our favorite bagel flavor at each shop and the shop’s signature or most popular bagel. We would also speak to an employee at each shop and ask questions about the shop’s history, their bagel-making process, other featured foods, and their distinctive traits.
We started our day at Wheeler’s Bagels in Johnson City because they opened earliest at 6:30 a.m. The clean and comfortable storefront is located in a small shopping center off North State of Franklin and Knob Creek Road. We were greeted by owner Eric Wheeler, who along with his father Gary opened Wheeler’s in 2014. These New York natives worked in law enforcement and as doughnut shop owners in Florida before moving here and perfecting the art of homemade New York-style bagels.
Everything in the shop is made fresh daily, including not only bagels, but also muffins, scones, cookies, cream cheese blends, fruit salad and parfaits, and soup (served seasonally). We each ordered our favorite bagel flavor (sesame, everything and blueberry) and also Wheeler’s signature bagel, the cinnamon crunch. Both Eric and his father Gary were extremely friendly and eager to answer our questions. They informed us that any leftover bagels at the end of the day are donated to various nonprofits. Everything was delicious, and we left with our stomachs more full than they should have been only one-third of the way through our adventure.
Our second stop was The Manna Bagel Company. Located in the heart of downtown Bristol on the Tennessee side of State Street, Manna’s shop has a comfortable urban feel with exposed brick walls and plenty of seating. Again, we ordered our favorite bagel flavors. Although their most popular flavors are blueberry or Asiago cheese, we decided to order a bagel with a very unique look. The rainbow bagel is a mixture of vanilla, strawberry and blueberry flavors. Besides bagels, they also serve oatmeal, sandwiches, soup, fruit, yogurt parfaits, and hummus platters.
Business was steady during our visit, but employees still made time to answer our questions. When Mike and Brenda Borsch became new owners three years ago, some changes were made in the look of the shop and in the staff. But we were assured that the same warm and welcoming atmosphere and homemade and delicious food remains the same. Manna donates any uneaten bagels at the end of each day to Second Harvest Food Bank. With even fuller stomachs and a bag of more bagels to take home, we headed to our final destination.
We ended Bagel Day at Bagel Exchange. Since we live in Kingsport, this is our bagel home base, and we are frequent customers. Keith and Michelle Cunningham opened Bagel Exchange in 2011. When the family moved to this area in 2010, they decided what they missed most from New York was the bagels. So they decided to bring the New York bagels to East Tennessee.
Located on Center Street in downtown Kingsport, Bagel Exchange doesn’t just serve New York-style bagels; they are literally “exchanged” or shipped from New York. The frozen bagels go through the proofing or rising process, and then they are baked in a steam oven.
Their two most popular flavors are their multigrain and everything bagels. Besides bagels, they also serve sandwiches (with names like “The Sergeant” and “The Lieutenant” that pay homage to Keith’s 20-year career in the New York Police Department), soup, salads, fruit, muffins, scones and cookies. They make their own cream cheese spreads, including a different specialty flavor of the month created by Michelle. The two-level shop is clean and comfortable with reliable WiFi. (Eric and I can attest to that as we work there frequently!)
I highly recommend that you try each of the Tri-Cities bagel shops. You’ll find that while each one serves delicious bagels, their individual characteristics are well worth the extra drive. I hope you enjoy visiting all of them as much as we did!
Kingsport’s Angie Hyche is a community columnist for the Kingsport Times News.