The legacy of the Lender brothers

by Matt Hamer
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Marvin (left) and Murray Lender.
 
The bagel is a common staple of the American breakfast. But 50 years ago, it would have been difficult to find bagels outside of Jewish communities in towns like New Haven, CT, birthplace of Marvin and Murray Lender, the brothers responsible for bringing the bagel into the mainstream.

These first-generation Americans, born 10 years apart to Polish immigrants, watched as their father, Harry, started the New York Bagel Bakery in the family garage in 1929. Both brothers worked in the family bakery during high school. Murray Lender, the eldest, rejoined the company after graduating from what is now Quinnipiac University in New Haven and serving in the US Army. Marvin Lender followed suit after his own college graduation from Syracuse University.

As the business grew into the late 1950s, the brothers began to freeze the bakery’s bagels to keep up with consumer demand, defrosting them for higher-volume weekend sales. This technique proved to be the catalyst for much of the future success for the company and the product.

“Marvin and Murray Lender are known to have single-handedly created the frozen bagel market,” said Doris Zelinsky, former financial director at Lender’s Bagels. “They ‘bagelized’ America by introducing, advertising, marketing and merchandising bagels in memorable ways.”

The Lender brothers took ownership of New York Bagel Bakery in 1960. In 1965, they changed the name to Lender’s Bagels and built their first industrial facility. Originally 6,000 sq ft, the plant doubled in size within the first year under the brothers’ leadership. Growth continued and additional facilities opened over the following 20 years.

“The brothers were geniuses at taking an obscure, handmade product and adapting it to mass production, distribution and consumer delight, not just acceptance,” Ms. Zelinsky said. “They helped pave the way for a myriad of traditional bakery foods, from bagels to pirogues to blintzes to gnocchi, pita and naan that are now available in convenient forms.”

Spearheaded by the Lender brothers, the growth of the bagel market contributed to advances in equipment design across the baking industry at large. Marvin Lender, in particular, worked with equipment manufacturers to develop methods of producing bagels at higher speeds and in greater quantities. These technology and process improvements quickly spread beyond bagel production, according to Ms. Zelinsky.

“Marvin influenced the technologies of dough ball formation, makeup, boiling, hearth-oven baking, slicing and packaged penny-stacking as well as freezing and distribution of frozen baked products of all sorts,” she said.

Though Marvin and Murray Lender were the two that stayed with the company long-term, their older brother Sam was involved in its early days, baking bagels alongside his father and brothers. After Lender’s Bagels experienced serious growth, they honored his hard work in a very visible way.

“The Lenders brothers were originally a threesome, Sam, Murray and Marvin,” Ms. Zelinsky said. “While Sam retired before the business began its meteoric growth, the image of three bagel-baking brothers adorned the company’s advertising, packaging and the consumer giveaways featured on its bags for years to come.”

Lender’s Bagels was sold to Kraft Foods in 1985, allowing Marvin and Murray Lender to spend more time on community development and non-profit work. Murray Lender committed himself to bettering the New Haven area, working on projects to improve quality of life for local residents. Marvin Lender championed major initiatives to transport oppressed Jewish communities from Africa and the former Soviet Union to Israel and has dedicated time and money to globally battling anti-Semitism.

Murray Lender passed away in 2012 at the age of 81. He and his brother are regarded in the baking industry as men of deep character and admirable business sense and will be inducted into the Baking Hall of Fame at the 2017 annual meeting of the American Society of Baking.
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