ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – A wife’s wish for a good bagel quickly spiraled into a new business and career for a couple who had spent much of their working life in retail.
In 2019, Jeff Perera found himself out of work. His wife, Danielle Perera, had been a stay-at-home mom for a few years at this point and had been planning to rejoin the workforce, allowing Jeff Perera to take over the stay-at-home parenting duties.
“We were both home — we had that overlap and neither of us were working,” Jeff Perera said. “And we were driving to Winter Park, 45 minutes to get bagels. And (I said) ‘This is silly — Like, there’s no bagel shop on our side of town.’ So she said ‘Why don’t you make me one?’”
Danielle Perera said she wanted her husband to have something to do so that he wouldn’t get depressed after being laid off.
“I wanted to make sure that he just maintained a good sense of worth,” she said. “I also, truthfully, did not think it would last. I thought it would be something that he would try, he’d be like ‘Whatever, didn’t work out,’ and go play golf.”
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But, Jeff Perera found a passion in trying to perfect his bagel baking skills.
“I just started making different batches with slightly altered ingredients and Danielle would come home and say, ‘This is horrible. This is better. This needs more salt,’ and I would take (her) feedback, and I would make slight adjustments,” he said. “And I mean, you should have seen the counters. It was like just glass and plastic and metal bowls full of different doughs with all the ingredients written on the paper on top.”
Eventually, Jeff Perera hit on the right recipe.
“I handed it to her like pretty fresh from the oven and she bit into it and her eyes rolled back in her head,” he said.
Within a few months of perfecting his bagel recipe, Jeff Perera was looking into selling his boiled and baked rings online. The bagel sales saw some early success, but once the pandemic hit, the pair started looking at the business in a different way.
“It was March of 2020 and it was actually our anniversary,” Jeff Perera said. “We went out to dinner and she was working at Ross Dress for Less and they had a big meeting planned — like this huge conference in Vegas where thousands of people, tens of thousands of people were going to come from all over the country to come to this meeting. And she gets text messages. They just start coming in her phone doesn’t stop going off while we’re at dinner. That conference had been canceled. Like something big is happening don’t know anything — but yeah, obviously the beginning of March was starting to get scary. Danielle immediately goes, ‘We need to stock up on bagel supplies.’”
The couple started selling more bagels through their social media page and were quickly overwhelmed by the amount of business they were receiving.
“We’d get, you know, 200 to 300 messages all at the same time (asking for bagels),” Jeff Perera said.
“It worked in the beginning and then it just grew too fast,” Danielle Perera said.
The pair eventually built a website to handle the influx of orders. But, even as the business saw more success, Danielle Perera was anxious about pursuing it full time.
“I have to be honest, the entire time I was very resistant because my career was growing,” Danielle Perera said. “I was being groomed to take a promotion. There was a lot of things going on in my career that I was not really ready to give up or put aside and I definitely struggled with like deciding, ‘OK, how do I have one foot in two things?’ Because ultimately, (Jeff’s Bagel Run) is both of us — like, it takes both of us to run.”
Eventually, the couple settled on moving forward with the business, opening their first brick-and-mortar shop in Ocoee. Now, only about a year later, the couple are planning to open their second location in Orlando.
In the latest episode of Florida Foodie, the Pereras talk about how they got the opportunity to set up shop in Orlando’s College Park neighborhood. They also share how some of their diehard customers braved flash flooding for their bagels.
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Florida Foodie is a bi-weekly podcast from WKMG and Graham Media that takes a closer look at what we eat, how we eat it and the impact that has on us here in Florida and for everyone, everywhere. Find new episodes on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you download your favorite podcasts.