Bross Bagels boss recalls path to opening third outlet in Edinburgh
TWO years ago Canadian actor and funnywoman Larah Bross had a dream: to share her love of Montreal Bagels with the good people of Portobello, where she now lives with husband Marc and daughters Billie, eight, and Roca, four.
Sitting in the newest addition to her bagel empire, a West End outlet on Queensferry Street, the 41-year-old reflects on how that dream became a reality.
“I ran a youth theatre in Portobello for ten years, which is still going, so got to know the community very well.
“I wanted to do something from 9am until 3pm while my kids were at school, something to help pay the mortgage, and I knew the local community would be supportive. So I had the idea to open a bagel shop, thinking I’d be able to do some comedy writing on my laptop in between serving a few coffees but, six months later, on the day we opened, there was a queue down the block.
“It was mental and I had to hire loads of staff.”
Larah’s initial dream of baking the bagels herself in a wood-burning oven in her back garden before bringing them to the shop each day also quickly began to disappear.
“It was such a romantic vision,” she laughs.
“I realised there was no way I could do that because, not being a baker, I didn’t have the experience.
“I woke up one morning thinking, ‘Oh my God! What am I doing? Why didn’t anyone tell me?’ To which the reply was, ‘Because you can’t tell you anything, you have to find out for yourself’.”
In search of a baker to create her distinctive brand of bagels, Larah discovered the community-supported organic bakery Breadshare. Engaged by their ethos, she gave them the recipe for her Montreal bagels.
“I also got my mom to ship some of the real things over from my favourite bagel shop – she thought I was crazy.
“Then I watched as the bakers ate my favourite bagels. Between us we then discovered the ‘Edinburgh way’ of making organic Montreal bagels.”
Eighteen months on from the opening of that first shop on Portobello High Street, Bross Bagels has three outlets across the city. The second to open, on Leith Walk, is also where the bagels are baked and Larah now has a staff of 22 working across all three sites.
“You can see the bagels being made in Leith,” she says proudly, before explaining what makes a Montreal bagel special.
“They are denser and skinnier, not like the big puffy doughy bagels, and they are boiled in honey water with a little bit of maple syrup in the dough, so they have a sweet edge to them,” she explains.
“They’re a little bit addictive as well.”
In truth, however, a Bross Bagel is a mix of the Montreal variety combined with New York-style fillings.
“I lived in New York for four years and I’d get them to scoop out their bagels because I wanted more filling and less carbs.
“Now, you would never do that with a Montreal bagel, it’d be sacrilegious.
“No-one really knows about Montreal bagels the way they know about New York bagels, but we Montrealers don’t care, we just let them think they have the better bagel.”
She continues: “My fillings were all created as a result of living in New York. For example, I used to love their Whitefish Salad and thought how good it would be as a filling on a Montreal bagel.
“One time, on the seven-hour drive home to get my washing done, I took the Whitefish Salad to Montreal with me and put it in a bagel.
“I didn’t know at the time, but that was the creation of the very first Bross Bagel – a New York deli filling on a Montreal bagel. It tasted amazing.”
No-one is happier with Larah’s success as Edinburgh’s Bagel Queen than her parents, who supported her through her first long-held ambition, a life in showbusiness.
“They supported me through my whole dream of being an actor but they are so happy that this is happening,” she smiles.
It was her desire to be a performer than brought Larah and husband Marc together.
Auditioning for Disney’s Cruise Line gave her the break she was looking for – or so she thought.
“It was my first job. I auditioned, they loved my smile and gave me a job, but I quickly realised I was in the wrong place because I had to conform.
“But it was great for my CV,” and there’s that laugh again.
It was on another cruise that Larah met Marc, on a ship she calls “The Love Boat”.
“I was working as part of the entertainment team and he was a photographer,” she said.
“Now, when you work on ships you always try and hook up with someone who has a port-hole in their cabin... and he had the porthole,” she adds, tongue firmly in cheek.
“It was definitely a Miss Piggy/Kermit the Frog situation for a very long time, but I got him. Then, when I moved to New York he stayed on the ships and would visit me during breaks.
“I went to New York to be in a friend’s play, then became part of a female improv group and did sketch comedy and did a couple of films on Manhattan Cable, but I was fading away in New York, a typical actor turning into a bar-tender.
“Marc had just bought a flat here and said, ‘Why don’t you just come to Edinburgh?’”
In 2006, to escape New York, she did just that.
“It was August and the Festival was on. I got a job at the Gilded Balloon and there was a heat wave. I thought, ‘Wow! This place is great’, then August finished and I thought, ‘Where is everyone? Why is everything closed?’”
That festival season, however, lead to her finally trying her hand at stand-up, inspired by Tim Minchin and Russell Howard, whose merchandise she had been selling.
First, though, she set up her own sketch comedy troupe at The Stand.
“We started off as the Sugaring Off Cabin,” she recalls, “and then it became Broken Windows Policy with Ben Verth and now it is Viva La Shambles, which I have not been able to do for about a year. I do miss it.”
The distraction is simple, bagels, and her passion for them is clear as she recalls: “I grew up eating bagels; every weekend we would stop by the bagel shop. It was such a big thing.
“You’d get them steaming hot in a bag and try not to eat them in the back of the car. I always failed and burnt my tongue.” And she laughs again.