Dough Business

Thanks to one man, baked bialys, a cousin to the bagel, are gaining a following
Photograph by Brad Ziegler

For nearly half a century, Brooklyn-born Richard Steinik has been known simply as “the bialy man.”

If you don’t know what bialys are, think of bagels, then think again. Yes, bialys are round and chewy like their better-known cousin, but they’re lighter and fluffier (think English muffins), and without holes. Instead, they have wells in their centers that are crammed with chopped onions. And they’re baked, not boiled like bagels.

And, unlike bagels, bialys have only five ingredients: flour, water, yeast, salt, and onions — no sugar, malt, or fat.

Steinik’s story begins humbly. He started out in 1960, driving a Bronx Bialy delivery truck in New York. A year later, he progressed to bialy baker, then rose to become the top guy at New York’s Bialy Union by 1964. (At that time, bialys and bagels didn’t mix; their unions were separate.) To make a long story short, when Sam Ambender, the original owner of the Detroit Bagel Factory, wooed Steinik to Detroit in 1967 to make bialys, a Detroit tradition was born.

Steinik later bought the company and, today, the Detroit Bagel Factory in West Bloomfield Township and Livonia is the only authentic bialy bakery in town. There are bialy wannabes, but only Steinik himself makes 27 dozen of the genuine article daily.

The dough is prepared in a giant mixer, pressed into balls in a century-old press, and hand-formed into its distinctive disc shape. Steinik then chops pounds of onions and hand-fills each bialy before they’re blast-baked at 500 degrees and ready to sell by 6 a.m. weekdays, when the doors open.