Food scientist, chef and business owner Brad Kent has a thing for bread. He’s taken that passion into his newest endeavor, Bagel+Slice, a bagel and pizza shop that will be opening soon in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. Kent has worked as a food scientist for the Department of Defense, on refrigerated and frozen products for Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, and is a founding partner (along with investor LeBron James) and Chief Culinary Officer for Blaze Pizza. Bagel+Slice plans to offer New York style classics in updated flavor combinations and with vegan and gluten-friendly options every step of the way. We talked with Kent about how this new venture came to be, what it is about pizza that keeps him captivated, and how Bagel+Slice will benefit the local community.
How did you become interested in food in the first place?
I have a vivid memory of my childhood and know precisely the meal I ate when I decided I needed to take matters into my own hands and learn to cook for myself. I ordered a meatball sandwich at an Italian restaurant in San Diego when I was seven years old. It wasn’t the same sauce as it had been previously. I cried and my parents sent back the sandwich and the kitchen promptly prepared me a second sandwich. I took one bite and wailed with frustration that it was still not right. My parents apologized to the server and sent the sandwich back and ordered me minestrone soup. This dish was prepared as I had liked and I ate it.
The chef then came out of the kitchen and apologized to me and my family, saying the meatballs were indeed not right. He admitted to taking a shortcut because he did not simmer the meatballs in the sauce and thought that he could serve meatballs with marinara sauce without any issues from the dining room. Little did he know that he would set my destiny to become a chef at that point. I started growing produce that year and following recipes from the Gourmet cookbook with the help of my mom. My first recipe prepared from that book was eggs Benedict, still one of my favorite dishes.
What drew you specifically to food science?
I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge. I believed becoming a food scientist would make me an expert in all things food. I soon learned after being hired as a food scientist for the US Department of Defense that it is impossible for one person to be an expert on “food,” so I decided to focus on bread-based street foods like pizzas and bagels.
What is it about pizza that keeps you opening new concepts?
Pizza has so many different styles, and even the classics continue to evolve in ways to make them even better. I love Neapolitan pizza and created my own interpretation of a Neo-Neapolitan style pizza with my first pizza restaurant, Olio Wood Fired Pizzeria. I then believed that a concept like Subway could be developed, but for pizza, using exceptional quality ingredients and Blaze Pizza was born. My newest concept, Bagel+Slice was born out of the notion of making two of New York’s most important street foods accessible and affordable with a focus on using artisanal techniques and regenerative organic ingredients. I’m very excited to share what this delivers.
Are you making bagels and pizza that New Yorkers will recognize or are they a style of your own?
New Yorkers will recognize my style of pizzas because they possess the critical elements of these New York staples. They are made by hand and they are made with passion. New Yorkers are serious people, and second-rate efforts will not be tolerated. Yes, there are some differences between what we are doing using organic and regenerative organic ingredients, but the intention to prepare good things is all there and will be understood and appreciated.
What should people know about regenerative agriculture, and why should they seek out ingredients farmed using those practices?
Regenerative practices are not new. They rely on the same types of practices that many indigenous peoples employ currently and historically. This system is free from chemical inputs, relies on less water, builds crops that are more severe weather tolerant and have a higher nutritional density. Regenerative systems build back to soil. Looking at farming as an ecosystem rather than just a single monoculture product is a key to its success. We are a part of it because we want our customers and planet to benefit. We will keep our prices low so we can attract those that may not otherwise be able to afford to eat food of this quality.
Why did you decide to do bagels and pizza in the same shop?
Doing business in California is incredibly expensive. Fast food restaurants have made calories very inexpensive. People have become accustomed to the type of speed and pricing that fast food affords for a meal. We needed to develop a model that is more efficient so we can afford to charge less for higher quality foods to make them accessible to those that otherwise might be drawn to fast food for their meals. This more efficient model allows for us to use space, equipment and ingredients more efficiently. We also are forcing down our profits to further subsidize our sales prices to further democratize our model. We chose bagels and pizzas because they both fit the model of using the same ingredients and equipment, and also because they are familiar and accessible to nearly all demographics. This restaurant model is an experiment, and if it succeeds we will be anxious to share our findings so others can follow our lead.
Where do you get the inspiration for the flavors at Bagel+Slice?
My life experience has afforded me the privilege of learning about ingredients, culinary techniques and traditions of many cultures. I combine that experience with the artistic eye of our Creative Director, Jeff Minton, to help guide assembling visually captivating images. We have a push-pull relationship that is always guided by combinations that have to work or they just won’t make the cut.
What did you learn from developing Blaze that you’ve taken into this new endeavor?
I’ve taken a deepened knowledge on how to scale from Blaze. I’ve learned to focus on what I’m really good at and to hire experts where I’m weak. I brought in a brand identity expert, Nic Griffiths from October and Associates, before even developing the menu. He, too, has provided a “North Star” for our brand to follow as we went from design and build to sourcing and menu development and even for our music selection process.
What should we expect from Bagel+Slice after its initial opening?
Our mission is to do good things. I expect you will see good things done for our local community, great food served, helpful information shared with the larger hospitality industry and a concerted effort to make a positive impact changing the paradigm of a restaurant’s purpose in society.
How has Covid impacted your business plan for Bagel+Slice?
The pandemic has changed our model from a restaurant designed to sell food, to a community resource to do good. It has changed our approach to sourcing, how we disinfect without chemicals even in our hand sinks and toilets, how we laid out or kitchen spaces with social distancing built-in, how we can offer more ways for contactless ordering and pick ups with a heated and refrigerated pick-up station to a walk-up window outfitted with a custom 16” pizza box drawer.
Though the opening date for Bagel+Slice has not yet been announced, customers can keep an eye out for pop-ups like their recent bagel breakfast to get a taste.
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