Marvin 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, Conn., 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. Harry carried flour bags, mixed dough and rolled bagels by hand, selling the bagels to local bakeries for their Jewish customers on Sundays.
Marvin and Murray worked in the family bakery during high school. Murray, the eldest, rejoined the company after graduating from what is now Quinnipiac University in New Haven and serving in the U.S. Army. Marvin 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 routine 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.”
During his Hall of Fame acceptance speech on Feb. 27 at BakingTech 2017 in Chicago, Marvin said the Lenders experimented with freezing bagels to accommodate the 80% of sales orders needed for the weekends.
“Please remember that first and foremost we were then a bakery business with a hearth-baked product, and frozen foods was only a vehicle that we used to bring our bagels to the marketplace,” he said.
Following the death of their father in 1960, the Lender brothers took ownership of New York Bagel Bakery. In 1965, they changed the name to Lender’s Bagels and built their first industrial facility. Originally a 6,000-square-foot facility, the plant doubled in size within the first year under the brothers’ leadership as they introduced their bagels across the United States.
“There are no boundaries for bagels today as they are baked and eaten in other parts of the world: Western Europe, Southeast Asia and the Middle East to name just a few,” Marvin said.
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 pierogies 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, who served as president, was responsible for such areas as new plants, designing machinery and equipment, using natural ingredients, checking out innovations like pre-slicing and polyethylene bags, and finding solutions to transporting product nationally and internationally. These technology and process improvements quickly spread beyond bagel production, Ms. Zelinsky said.
“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.
Murray, on the other hand, was the promoter, doing “shtick” on television advertisements and constantly coming up with “crazy” schemes, such as cross couponing, Marvin said. He was the company’s chief executive officer.
Though Marvin and Murray 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 1984, which later sold the company to Pinnacle Foods in 2003. The sale of the business freed Marvin and Murray to spend more time on community development and non-profit work. Murray committed himself to bettering the New Haven area, working on projects to improve quality of life for local residents. Marvin 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 passed away in 2012 at the age of 81.
“I know how much he would have loved this incredible honor,” Marvin said. “He always loved a big crowd, and if it had anything to do with bagels, even more so.”
Marvin added that his father would be amazed at the Lender’s company story.
“We followed his teachings and learned from his values: a work ethic, a sense of decency and honesty and love of this country, which he saw as a land of opportunity,” Marvin said.