A whole lotta bagels

[attach]943[/attach]How long does it take to sell 30 million bagels?

You could ask Ben Rafael, the owner of the iconic Kiva’s Bagel Bakery and Restaurant at Bathurst Street and Steeles Avenue. Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the bakery expects to hit the 2.5 million dozen mark sometime soon.

Rafael remembers the day Kiva’s sold bagel number one.

Just 14 years old at the time, he noticed a ‘help wanted’ sign in the window of the new bakery. He applied for the job and started working for the original owner (and restaurant namesake) when it first opened in April 1979.

A lot has changed since then, he says.

“The area is just completely expanded,” Rafael says. “In 1979 across the street on Steeles there was a farm with cows grazing and today it’s a metropolis. Tens of thousands of people have moved into the area, whereas in 1979 this was the edge of Toronto. There was nothing else around.”

Kiva’s itself has undergone a few changes over the years. A 1988 expansion into the parking lot made room for the current restaurant area. A decade ago, Rafael and his two brothers bought the business outright from Al Sugar, one of the two original partners.

One thing that hasn’t changed much though, is the product. Despite the fact that many Toronto bakeries have mechanized over the last few decades, Kiva’s remains true to form, Rafael says.

“We don’t add any preservatives or additives to our bagels. They’re still hand-rolled. That keeps the tradition alive … We’ve kept the original recipes, the original ingredients and people just love that,” Rafael says.

That said, Kiva’s has adapted to suit the changing needs of its clientele over the years. The bakery now produces a wide range of sugar-free and multi-grain items in addition to the classic poppy and sesame bagels and twisters. And just how does one manage to sell 30 million bagels?

“We produce for our restaurant, for our bakery and we also do a lot of wholesale and catering,” says Rafael says. “We did a calculation of how many bagels we sell a day based on how many ovens we rotate a day and it works out to roughly … one million bagels a year times 30 years —30 million bagels.”

But the love of customers it seems, is perhaps the key ingredients in the place’s success.

“It’s a real family environment — it’s very social,” Rafael says. He points out that there are thousands of loyal customers, some of whom come in literally every single day, like Joel Gula.

“I come in … four or five days a week, for breakfast and lunch. It has to be about 30 years,” he says. “The food is good. It’s fresh, it’s delicious, I enjoy it and I keep coming back for more.”

Long-time customer Rick Horenfeldt also says Kiva’s helps satisfy his basic needs.

“My wife doesn’t cook and I like to eat breakfast,” he says. “That’s probably the biggest reason (I come in). And the bagels are the best in Toronto for sure.”

What would he do if he couldn’t get his breakfast at Kiva’s?

“I’d have to get here for lunch.”