Bagel+Slice Embraces a Regenerative Business Model Near Occidental College
Brad Kent, Blaze Pizza Co-Founder/Chief Culinary Officer, also runs Olio Wood Fired Pizzeria at DTLA’s iconic Grand Central Market. He combines pizza know-how with a love for bagels that dates to childhood at his new Bagel+Slice on the Eagle Rock/Highland Park border. The seasoned food pro, who attended the Culinary Institute of America and worked in gastronomic temples like Patina, hadn’t given serious thought to where his food came from until 2019, but after diving down the rabbit hole, he’s become a regenerative business champion.
“I didn’t know about regenerative until I applied for the lease for this space,” Kent says. Part of his application process with property owner Occidental College involved completing a detailed questionnaire that delved way beyond his ability to pay the lease. “The questions they asked me told me so much about a restaurant’s true role in the world and in a neighborhood,” he says. “I started doing research on what I could do better because I realized I had never really done enough. I didn’t know the impact of who you buy your ingredients from impacts people’s lives. I didn’t think about that.”
At Olio Wood Fired Pizzeria, the only other concept where Kent has full control, his sourcing criteria centered on four factors: “that the quality was really good, that it was consistent, that it was safe, and that I could get it over and over again.” Writing essays for Oxy got Kent “thinking about where you’re buying stuff from, what impact that has on communities, on families, and on education.” Apparently Occidental College was impressed with his findings, since they selected Bagel+Slice for the space over other candidates.
“Mindful sourcing can make a positive impact on cultures and even the climate," Kent says. “That’s a pond I want to play in.” That said, updating his sourcing practices only made doing business more difficult. “Historically restaurants source from two - ideally it would be one – supplier,” he says. “So you make one phone call, you have one email or you go to one website. You order all your stuff and it all gets delivered the next day and you’re set.” Buying ingredients that way no longer felt sufficient to Kent. He currently buys from over 10 specialized vendors, including Kvarøy Arctic salmon, Chino Farms organic, pasture-raised eggs, Straus Family Creamery organic dairy products, Nathanael Siemens regenerative organic wheat, and Keller Crafted regenerative and heritage meats.
Kent is currently researching whether Bagel+Slice can become accredited as a B Corp, a beneficial corporation that’s working to be a “force for good.” His hope is that B Corp will vet his methods to confirm he’s giving back properly to the community and employees. He points to Patagonia as just one prime example.
“I don’t think of regenerative just being how something is grown,” Kent says. “I look at regenerative as a way of being. In the farming world, what you’re doing is building back the microflora. You’re building back plant and animal life, microbial and bug life, but you’re also building in topsoil and sequestering carbon from the environment. You’re doing good for the planet and for the little world around there. That’s the same role I see of any business in any community.”
Kent devotes the bulk of Bagel+Slice’s About page to supporting regenerative practices, but doesn’t plan to fill the restaurant walls or menu with boastful buzzwords. “Judge me based on my actions,” he says. “If somebody wants to engage me, I would love to engage them back about regenerative.”
Kent is prepared to get as granular as people like, saying, “I’m glad to share who we source from. How we charge for that food. How we designed the business to have thin margins so we can pay our employees more, give them more to live on, because it’s expensive and hard to live in L.A. and not everyone has the luxury of having a support network or having worked for 35+ years saving up enough money to do the things that I’m doing here. Not everyone has that. They need a leg up. They need an opportunity. So I want to give them that opportunity. By employing people, paying them a little bit more, charging a little bit less, taking a little bit less profit. Yes, a business has to make money. You have to be profitable in order to do good things. If I’m going to give back to the community in any sort of financial way, let’s say by giving money or free food or discounted food to organizations that are in need, I have to be able to afford that somehow. That’s where some of the profits will go…and that’s not something that will show up in our top line or our bottom line. That shows up out of my pocket. The stuff that shows up out of the bottom line is going to be our sales price. When we can sell a bagel for under $2 that is organic, 100% regenerative organic grains, when we can sell a slice of pizza and someone can have an entire meal for less than $5, that’s how we give back to the community.”
“My long-term objective is to convert the world over to regenerative ingredients,” Kent says. “I hope I can play a role in getting higher quality ingredients into the distribution system so that chain restaurants will start using them. I want to make that accessible to the chains… We have to show them there’s a demand for it… Until larger companies start to buy regenerative products, we’re not putting any dent in our system.”
For Kent, regenerative isn’t all or nothing. “We’re starting with a minimum of 10% regenerative whole wheat in all of our baked goods,” he says. Eventually, they’ll work their way toward 100%. “You don’t have to go all the way,” Kent adds. “You don’t have to be 100% regenerative organic. It just has to be something. And doing something is way better than putting your head in the sand.”