Interest-Free Loan Kept Local Bagel Company Afloat Amidst Pandemic
Tom Rosen of Rosen’s Bagels. Courtesy of Tom Rosen.
By Craig Gilden
Hebrew Free Loan Association of Austin is a partner of Shalom Austin.
In February 2020, Rosen’s Bagel Company was on the verge of signing a lease for a brick-and-mortar location which would be the culmination of three years of hard work building a business for Austin resident Tom Rosen, until the COVID-19 pandemic hit Austin. Rosen estimates that at least 60% of his bagel wholesale business was gone by April 2020 and facing an inability to pay his employees. After being introduced to Hebrew Free Loan Association of Austin, which provides no interest loans to Jewish residents of Central Texas in need, Rosen applied for a loan.
“It is not an exaggeration to say that the loan sustained the business. There are a lot of predatory loans out there for small business owners that have high interest. HFLA allowed me to make the best decision for my business before I got desperate and considered something that I normally wouldn’t,” said Rosen.
Rosen’s Bagel Company had grown to hosting an occasional pop-up at Wright Brothers Brewery to being sold at more than 25 coffee shops and additional grocery stores such as Whole Foods across the Austin area as well as a team of close to 10 employees. Rosen’s dream was coming true, until overnight, it wasn’t. The COVID-19 pandemic led to the closure of businesses and slowing down of daily life across the world, including all the locations in which Rosen’s bagels were sold.
During an uncertain time, the HFLA loan kept this small business owner afloat, “HFLA was a lifesaver, it provided some security and freed me to not worry about whether I could pay my employees or take-home salary for myself.”
Rosen moved to Austin in 2013 to pursue a PhD in Sociology from UT Austin. He came with a culinary background and was interested in researching why people eat what they eat, but ultimately decided the doctoral route wasn’t for him. He did decide to remain in Austin, but his passions led him in a new direction.
Around this time, Rosen began experimenting making bagels with friends, “I became enamored with the process, it is labor intensive and takes a full 48 hours to complete.” It took Rosen at least six months of experimentation and having friends serve as taste testers before he felt comfortable thinking about selling them.
Almost a year after COVID-19 changed the world, Rosen’s Bagel Company has weathered the crisis by adapting the business. Rosen’s bagels are still being sold at grocery stores and coffee shops across the Austin area such as Biderman’s Deli, Royal Blue Groceries, Whole Foods and more. Additionally, the bagels are now delivered to homes or businesses, including purchasing frozen bagels to cook and eat later. Rosen is optimistic that signing a lease for a brick-and-mortar store is soon.
Rosen credits the hand up from HFLA for making a big difference. “It was essential during the first few months of COVID, a period that was deeply concerning as a small business owner. HFLA made it possible,” said Rosen.
HFLA provides short-term financial support to the greater Austin Jewish community through no-interest loans. For more information, visit hebrewfreeloanofaustin.org. ■
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