Over the course of the pandemic, countless Americans have gotten serious about sourdough, but few have chosen bagels as their bread form of choice. And even fewer have turned their hobby into a booming business set to open its first brick-and-mortar later this month.
When the Chewy’s Bagels sign went up last week at the former Carytown location of Jean-Jacques Bakery, this may have been the first time many Richmonders ever heard of Ashley Cricchio’s blossoming bagel business. But for local gluten gluttons, the move marked the long-awaited next step in Chewy’s meteoric rise.
Cricchio’s passion for bagel-making actually predates the pandemic by a year, but the beginning of her baked goods journey began in 2017, when she was getting ready to graduate from VCU with a history degree and wasn’t feeling inspired by her job prospects. With her husband’s encouragement, she began cold calling bakeries around town offering free labor in exchange for training. She found a mentor in a man named Earl — a baker and former Cordon Bleu instructor in Charlottesville. Over two years of intense pâtisserie training and hands-on bakery management, Cricchio increasingly found herself balancing the work on croissants and cakes with home bagel experimentation.
“I’m from the Northeast, so I didn’t understand that good bagels aren’t everywhere,” says Cricchio. “At first I was just giving bagels away to friends, but eventually I reached that threshold where I had to make a decision: Do I keep doing this as a hobby or do I make this my full-time work?” So she quit her job and moved into Hatch Kitchen; overnight, she went from a cottage operation to working out of a commercial kitchen and being able to sell wholesale to local grocery stores.
Outpost Richmond, Forest Hill’s beloved bike shop bodega, became Cricchio’s first commercial customer. Over the past two years, the list of stores that stock Chewy’s Bagels has quickly expanded to include Stella’s, Yellow Umbrella Provisions, and Ellwood Thompson’s. If you prefer your Chewy’s Bagel served toasted with some cream cheese, a number of local cafés and coffeehouses carry Cricchio’s wares: the Smokey Mug, Sefton Coffee Co., and Surrounding Counties.
Thanks to the experience gained from several farmers’ markets and pop-ups around town, Cricchio is now ready to open her own storefront — a decision she may not have made so quickly had the perfect location not presented itself. “If the stars hadn’t aligned for us to snap up Jean-Jacques, which was a great bakery for 30 years, we wouldn’t have moved to a brick-and-mortar so soon,” she says. “I knew having my own shop was always something I wanted to do, but I just didn’t know when it was going to happen.”
The move-in this month couldn’t come at a better time as demand for Chewy’s Bagels has kicked into overdrive the last several months. Cricchio and her team went from producing around 2,000 bagels per month a year ago to now turning out over 8,000 bagels a month for her 13 wholesale partners. Now that she has shifted her wholesale operation into the new location, Cricchio hopes to get the café side of her business up and running shortly.
The Carytown shop will carry all of Chewy’s Bagels’ nine famous flavors: plain, everything, rosemary sea salt, sesame, poppyseed, blueberry, cinnamon raisin, chocolate chip, and the newest addition to the menu: asiago cheese. Although the everything is the most popular bagel she sells, Cricchio is especially partial to rosemary sea salt: “That’s the most surprising for folks because they think of those flavors as Thanksgiving, but it’s a strong option for sandwiches.” She also couldn’t be more supportive of her latest flavor creation: “The asiago cheese bagel is so delicious I often eat them whole without anything on them!”
Customers can expect both a breakfast and lunch menu featuring an assortment of sandwiches revived from her various pop-up shops around town as well as a coterie of housemade cream cheeses: plain, scallion, cinnamon sugar, even a vegan option. The item Cricchio is most excited to serve is her personal order of choice — a bagel sandwich with a fried egg and housemade bacon jam.
For folks in need of a shot (or two) of caffeine in the morning, Chewy’s new location will have you covered. Cricchio is currently working with several local roasters to get drip and cold brew options on the menu with an eye towards espresso-based offerings as well.
Although the take-out window is planned to launch later this month, Cricchio is most looking forward to opening the inside of her new shop to the public.
“I want [it] to feel like an extension of my front porch,” she says. “I want people to be able to come in, eat some good bagels, and hang out. Making something for people is so gratifying, and bread is an important food. People deserve much better bagels. It’s such an untapped market.”