On the first morning that the Bloomington Bagel Company was open, the owner Sue Aquila said she had no money left. She couldn’t even afford a toaster, she said.
On that morning, they unlocked the doors and flipped the open sign. Steam rose from the freshly baked bagels and everything was perfect. The first customer, Katie Weismiller, walked in and requested a toasted bagel. Although Aquila tried to explain that they don’t toast fresh bread, Weismiller wasn’t buying it. They have now been married for 25 years.
Now, 27 years later, BBC remains a top bagel spot for the Bloomington community. With four locations — North Dunn Street, North Morton Street, South College Avenue and East Third Street — the company is accessible from many different areas in town.
As a New Yorker, Aquila was tired of not having a good, fresh-baked bagel here in town. With many shops only selling steamed bagels that are shipped into town frozen, Aquila said, she dreamed of making fresh baked bagels. So she started the journey to open her own shop.
Having a 30-page business plan, some financial and mentorship help from a relative, a teacher from the Bagel Bakers Union to teach her how to make bagels from scratch and a storefront off Kirkwood Avenue up for lease, the stars aligned and Aquila opened the first BBC location in 1996.
BBC is a female-run business. With Aquila as the owner and Dawn Keough as the CEO, the duo said they have created a community of love and acceptance.
“We’re always focused on supporting women, supporting people in the LGBTQ community,” Aquila said. “In the context of supporting all the communities in our community, we try very hard to do that.”
This is something that sets them apart from other restaurants in town, Aquila said. BBC has become a safe place for many students struggling alone during the COVID-19 pandemic. They created a community during the pandemic for both staff and customers that has had a lasting effect, she said.
In return, much of the Bloomington community is equally supportive of BBC and Aquila herself.
Aquila recounted a story a story of when a group from Kentucky learned she was gay. With bibles in hand, the group from Old Paths Baptist Church began protesting outside the store. Preaching against homosexuality, the group stood out there for hours.
However, the community didn’t let her stand alone, Aquila said.
“I will never forget: there was a female student who was a regular,” Aquila said. “She drove by, leaned her head out the window and yells at them, ‘Not only am I gay, I’m Jewish too,’ and continues driving.”
Members of the community keep coming back day and day again, with a line wrapping around the building on many weekends, she said.
BBC has expanded since then. The store released a new online ordering service for bagels. Customers can currently test out their new Hot Cheeto bagel — which will be returning this weekend after high –demand
An employee at the East Third Street location even experimented with crushed-up Dorito cream cheese, which will also be available this weekend.
“That’s the beauty of making everything from scratch,” Aquila said. “We have the ability to try things.”
Aquila said she feels fortunate to have so many people surrounding her and helping her create and execute these ideas.
Dawn Keough, the original creator the Hot Cheeto bagel and the “Wake and Bakes” (a hashbrown on a breakfast sandwich), is one of those people.
Although Keough always dreamed of going back to law school, the family dynamic and comfort of BBC was a stronger pull.
“It’s such a family,” Keough said. “Sue and I always joke that we are each other's longest relationship.”
The two have created an environment that Keough describes as having all the tolerance in the world.
“It isn’t just the handmade aspect,” Keough said. “it’s also the personality, the sense of humor, the quirkiness and the offbeat personality. It mixes perfectly.”