Bantam Bagels chasing a dream

by Monica Watrous
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Bantam Bagels
Bantam Bagels offers both sweet and savory miniature New York City bagel balls stuffed with cream cheese.

NEW YORK — Elyse and Nick Oleksak, a pair of Columbia University graduates, ditched their fast-paced jobs on Wall Street to develop Bantam Bagels, miniature New York City bagel balls stuffed with cream cheese. The product concept came to Mr. Oleksak in a dream, and after making hundreds of test batches in their Brooklyn apartment, the husband-and-wife team opened a small shop in New York City’s West Village to sell the signature bagels.

The brand offers both sweet and savory options, including everything bagel stuffed with vegetable cream cheese, pretzel salt bagel stuffed with cheddar Dijon cream cheese, cinnamon nutmeg egg bagel with maple syrup cream cheese, and brown sugar walnut bagel with chocolate chip cream cheese.

A year after the shop opened, Oprah Winfrey featured Bantam Bagels on her Oprah’s Favorite Things 2014 list. That following January, Mr. and Ms. Oleksak appeared on “Shark Tank,” pitching the concept to the television show’s celebrity panel of investors with the hopes of winning financial backing and support for the business venture.

Bantam Bagels founders
An appearance on 'Shark Tank' scored Elyse and Nick Oleksak a partnership with Lori Greiner.

“We both came from corporate business backgrounds but have both always been inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit,” Ms. Oleksak said. “When we first started Bantam Bagels, we actually spent hours watching ‘Shark Tank,’ taking notes and using the Q.&A. from other pitches as a way to prepare for our own capital raise.”

Following the “toughest, most rigorous interview we have ever experienced,” the pair secured a deal with Lori Greiner, a prolific inventor dubbed the “Queen of QVC” shopping network. Ms. Greiner offered the company $275,000 in exchange for 25% equity.

“‘Shark Tank’ has created a customer base of people who genuinely and sincerely root for us,” Ms. Oleksak said. “It gave viewers a peek at the hustle and humanity behind our business, allowing for a more organic, authentic connection between our business and our customers.”

Bantam Bagels at Starbucks
Bantam Bagels has begun selling its bagel balls in more than 4,000 Starbucks locations on the East and West coasts.

Before appearing on the show, Bantam Bagels had sales of $200,000. Eight months later, the company’s sales surged to more than $2.1 million.

Working with Ms. Greiner has opened more doors for the company, which is developing products for retail and has begun selling its bagel balls in more than 4,000 Starbucks locations on the East and West coasts. Ms. Greiner also helped them land a deal with Delta Airlines, which now offers Bantam Bagels to first-class passengers on flights departing from New York airports.

“The food industry is full of some of most dynamic interesting, creative and smart people we've ever met,” Ms. Oleksak said. “Our advice is to meet and learn from as many industry professionals as possible. We've learned so much along the way as we we've taken each step forward, and we owe a lot of our success from the shared experiences and guidance of our peers.” 
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