CoMo Jewish-inspired bagel shop spreads joy and cream cheese, too

By Ellen Futterman / Editor-in-Chief

Goldie’s Bagels in Columbia, Mo. has a slogan, a tagline if you will, that pretty much sums up its mission: “Made by moms for your mornings, meetings and mazel tovs.”

“We dream of having a café space someday that caters to families with young kids. That’s how Sarah and I met,” explains Amanda Rainey, 36, who runs the bagel operation with friend and fellow mom Sarah Medcalf.

“Her son is like three months younger than my oldest,” continues Rainey, who is Jewish and whose daughters, Rosie and Micah, are 41/2 and almost 2. “We started meeting with a group of friends who had kids in that same period, and we got coffee every week for maybe the first six months of our kids’ lives, which was a huge support that we all needed. There was one coffeeshop that we would go to that had one table, kind of in the corner, where we could feed our babies. There’s just not a kid-friendly place in town that has even a little area with some toys, which is what we’d eventually like to create.”

In the meantime, Goldie’s Bagels operates out of Pizza Tree, a 900-square foot pizza joint that was opened in downtown Columbia in 2014 by Rainey and her husband, John Gilbreth. The restaurant closed its small dining room and ended its late night hours during the pandemic. Today, customers can pick up pizza for lunch and dinner from a sidewalk window – all orders are take-out.

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Most mornings, Pizza Tree doubles as Goldie’s, selling breakfast pizzas (whole and by the slice) and five different kinds of freshly baked bagels from the window, along with bagel sandwiches such as “the yenta with lox,” for $10.50, piled high with whipped cream cheese, smoked salmon lox, capers, cucumbers and red onion. Another favorite boasts turmeric and black sesame seeds as a nod to Mizzou’s gold and black school colors.

“When we opened Pizza Tree, I was working at Hillel at Mizzou,” says Rainey, who grew up in St. Louis, graduated from Ladue Horton Watkins High School in 2003 and celebrated her bat mitzvah at Shaare Zedek. “From the time we opened, I said ‘Johnny, we are going to make bagels someday.’ We can use the same equipment (as pizza) for the most part and use the same flour. But it turns out you can only open one restaurant at a time, so it took another six years before we made bagels.”

Coincidentally, the same week Pizza Tree opened, Rainey traveled to New York City to participate in a free, week-long workshop for twenty-somethings called Tent, run by the Yiddish Book Center. These workshops center on the connection between modern culture and Jewishness; in Rainey’s case, the focus was food.

“We went to the New York Public Library and looked through their archives of old menus. We did a food crawl in the Lower East Side. It was really inspiring,” she says. “That’s when I knew someday, I’m going to do a little bit more with Jewish food.

“So at the beginning of the pandemic, with more time on my hands, I started baking bagels at home. I had never made bagels before and it’s a two-day process. It also became a weekend ritual where we would mix the dough on Saturday and make bagels on Sunday.

“We started making and selling them (as Goldie’s Bagels) in August” first as a pop-up on Mondays before expanding to daily service.

Rainey says she and Medcalf are “still working on our recipe. There are a lot of variables and a lot of little things to tweak.”

“We never set out to make authentic New York bagels, though we are inspired by that,” she adds. “We are inspired by other restaurants doing more modern Jewish food and also pulling from what we were already doing at the pizza shop.”

Goldie’s Bagels use a sourdough base, much like the pizzas at Pizza Tree. After the bagels are mixed and shaped, they are left to cold ferment overnight before they are boiled in malt syrup and then baked in the pizza oven. The finished bagels are bigger than most and seeded on both sides. For the Super Bowl, the women featured pretzel bagels. For Valentine’s Day, they plan to make chocolate chip bagels.

Rainey hopes to grow the business once the pandemic is over to include catering. She belongs to the only synagogue in Columbia, Congregation Beth Shalom, where she taught religious school while attending college at Mizzou. She says many of the 100 or so families who attend the Reform shul are interfaith. Still, there are b’nai mitzvahs and other Jewish occasions to celebrate, and what better way to do just that than with bagels?

“I grew up at Ladue and that’s a very different experience from what my daughters will have here. They likely will be the only Jewish kids in their classes,” says Rainey, who as part of a two-year, post-graduate fellowship worked for the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life in Jackson, Miss. “That’s part of why it’s important for me to do this and to be very explicitly, outwardly proud of how Jewish Goldie’s is.

“If you look at our Instagram page, I post videos of my kids celebrating all the Jewish holidays. We went live on Instagram and made challah a few weeks ago. We did a fundraiser for Tu BiShvat and got people to donate four cases of fruit and some money to the food bank.

“It’s nice to be able to bring my Jewish education background and my Jewish identity to what I am doing, and in a sense, create my dream job.”