To most Seattleites, South Tacoma Way is known for its car dealerships, industrial warehouses, and cameos in sad Neko Case songs—if indeed it’s known at all. But it’s now also known as the home of Howdy Bagel. The queer-own bagel bakery has persevered through supply chain issues, contractor shortages, and lots of last-minute DIY renovation to finally open on May 30, in the up-and-coming stretch of bars and restaurants at STW and South 56th Street. 

A long journey, but owners and husbands Daniel Blagovich and Jake Carter said they wouldn’t have had it any other way. And the lines wrapping around the block throughout Howdy Bagel’s first few weeks are showing them that it was an investment not just in their business—but their new community too.

“Oh, god, we just have some of the sweetest customers I’ve ever known,” Carter tells me, as we watch the line flow past us in front of the shop. “Sweet to us and to each other! Just, like, I overhear people chatting in line who have never met each other, and they have the cutest conversations. This might sound naive or idealistic, but it’s given me new hope in humanity!” He adds that he and Blagovich had no idea the crowds would get like this, but that, if you’re gonna have lines, it’s been in the best possible way. “I see friendships being made all day!” 

Can confirm. I braved Howdy Bagel’s on two consecutive weekends, and, oops, accidentally befriended the people in front of me both times. There’s a chatty, convivial excitement in the bagel line, like we’re all waiting to go see our favorite band, plus the electric thrill of supporting a cool new project. I walked away with four new bagel friends total, and we promised to see each other again at Howdy Bagel sometime. I don’t even live in Tacoma, and I was like “Yep! Absolutely!” 

“That’s just how Tacoma is,” Carter says. “People here are SO NICE. Coming from Seattle, I had no idea.”

Born of the pandemic, Howdy Bagel began in Carter and Blagovich’s then-home in West Seattle, after both got laid off from service jobs in 2020. “We were at home together, making banana bread and sourdough like everyone else,” Carter says, “and we started making bagels too. And I was like 'This is one of those things that I can bake a thousand times and never quite feel like I’ve mastered it.' And we loved that challenge.” 

They were a hit with friends and family too. From there, the pair sold bagels variously throughout Seattle, then eventually dipped down into the farmers market circuit in Tacoma—a city they’d always been fond of and that had no real bagel presence outside of massive chains. The reception in Tacoma was immense, and Carter and Blagovich soon moved south, buying a 1909 Craftsman fixer in Central Tacoma. 

The Howdy Bagel line still going strong around noon-thirty. MEG VAN HUYGEN

Plans for a Howdy Bagel brick-and-mortar were soon underway following the move, and after  great delay—they were originally slated to open in the summer of 2022—Howdy Bagel opened its doors at the end of May to an enormous reception. 

The bagels are well worth the wait, of course, with a tight crumb, a chewy interior texture, and a crisp, glossy exoskeleton. First trip, I got a Grit City (that’s Tacoma) Lox sandwich on an earthy-herbal za’atar bagel, which includes a heroic slab of smoked salmon, pickled red cabbage, red onions, scallion cream cheese, sliced cucumber, a big branch of fresh dill, olive oil, and cracked black pepper. Total flavor bomb. I was kinda shocked at how generous they were with the salmon—don’t put yourself out of business, guys! The sandwich goes for $13.50, and there’s like eight bucks’ worth of salmon on there. This is not a complaint, of course. 

The Grit City Lox includes a dumptrucksworth of smoked salmon (not lox), scallion cream cheese, pickled red cabbage red onion, fresh dill, cracked black pepper, and olive oil on a bagel of your choice. Replete with a bagels-on-horseshoes–print food liner, per the theme. MEG VAN HUYGEN

I realize, by the way, that lox and smoked salmon are different things, but I like thinking that, since Tacoma has a burgeoning Native cuisine scene, Grit City lox is not actually lox in the way that a Rocky Mountain oyster is not an oyster, and a baked Alaska is not an Alaska. It’s just the Tacoma version of lox. A Cleveland steamer. A Chicago pizza. Related but distinct.

Last weekend, I played it tame with a poppyseed bagel and garlic ‘n’ herb cream cheese. My partner, a nerd, spent some time pulling apart the bagel and tasting a non-seasoned bit, then a seasoned bit, then a seasoned bit with cream cheese, and so on. We agreed that these are powerful bagels that stand strong on their own and are perfectly delicious with nothing on them. But yes, drown me in that fuckin’ smoked salmon whenever possible, please. 

Announcing the world debut of Tacoma-style bagels. You heard it here first, y’all. MEG VAN HUYGEN

Delicious bagels aside, some attention must be paid to the masterwork of design that is the Howdy Bagel shop, festooned with Western flair and arty vintage pieces. It’s fun to count the cartoon bagels—they’re hiding in the wallpaper, in the framed art, on the paper food box liners. 

Carter, who’s originally from Texas, says it was a combined effort between him and Blagovich as well as Artisans Group, a woman-owned sustainable architectural design company in Olympia. “Daniel’s a curator of antique goods, so the antique pieces you see in the shop, like the butcher block and the library cabinet, are things that he brought to them and said, ‘Hey, we want to see these integrated somehow.’ And then, yeah, the Western theme is a nod to my time growing up in small-town Texas. They did an amazing job.”

A close-up on that za’atar bagel, with a few sesame seeds thrown in there for good measure. Total flavor bomb. 💕 MEG VAN HUYGEN

From the start, Carter and Blagovich planned Howdy Bagel to be a queer space—an interesting shape for one to take, since most designated queer spaces are either bars or sit-down full-service restaurants, but less often bagel bakeries. It’s a fun, inclusive, daytime way to contribute to Tacoma’s queer spaces, when the city has so few.

“Yeah, I was chatting with someone the other day about Tacoma’s queer community,” Carter says, “and it’s like, in Seattle, they have so many queer spaces, since it’s been a very queer-centered city for so long historically? But Tacoma has been too! It just looks different. It’s a lot more grassroots and organic here. So a bakery actually seemed like a very all-inclusive way to welcome people.”

He also comments on how Tacoma’s queer community seems friendlier to him and Blagovich. “It’s no judgment on Seattle, and I know everyone’s experience is different, but because Tacoma’s a smaller city, I genuinely think the people here are different. I meet someone who’s queer here, and I get their number and then they text me back the next day, and then I suddenly have three new friends and we’re all hanging out having beers together the very next week. It’s a different kind of vibe. When Daniel and I first moved here, we were like, 'I wonder what it’s like being queer in Tacoma.’ Turns out, I have more queer friends in Tacoma than I ever did in Seattle. When you meet someone here, they’re like, ‘I have a friend I should introduce you to,’ or ‘You should come over for wine sometime.’ People here look out for each other here, and they follow up.”

Blagovich (left), Carter, and Howdy Bagel's beefy and nameless cartoon cowpoke logo. MEG VAN HUYGEN

On the subject of queerness: Much hype has been made of the Howdy Bagel logo, depicting a beefy cartoon cowpoke—in either skintight pants or no pants—whose legs are slung through a giant bagel, in the style of a ’50s pin-up. When I ask Carter if the logo guy has a name, he responds, “You know, people sometimes ask me, ‘Is it even a guy?’ I’m like ‘I don’t know! I don’t know who they are. They’re a mystery!’ People are like ‘Is it you?’ I’m like ‘Maybe! We’re never gonna know.’ But we haven’t given them a name, no. If you wanna name them, go for it!”

He adds that credit for the sexy bagel cowhand as well as all the campy bagelry around the shop go to Keith Davis Young, a designer working out of Austin, Texas. “When we began designing the space,” Carter says, “Keith originally sent me some kinda femme-presenting bagel ladies, posing in big bagels, and I was like “...We’re gay. Can we get something a little more, uh, Gay Vibes?” And so he sent us back the burly bagel man—or is it a man??—and we were just like “Oh, my god, perfect. Let’s do it.”

Out of all the fabulous decor, the bit I couldn’t take my eyes off was a little line printed on the back wall, advertising “Tacoma-style bagels.” Is that a thing, I asked, or are y’all just being cute?

“It’s partially being cute,” Carter replied, “but also, there’s so many kinds of bagels out there. It’s one of the most controversial pastries in the world! You got your New York-style, your Montreal-style, and there’s a huge bagel community across the world making all these different styles, so Howdy Bagels are our own style.” But mostly, he adds, when they say “Tacoma-style,” they refer to their practice of sourcing ingredients locally as much as possible. Howdy Bagels are made from local flour, local produce, and eggs and cheese made by local farms and creameries. 

“We’re so lucky and privileged to live in a part of the country where we have farmers and growers who do their craft incredibly well. So, we’re bringing all these people together from Pink Moon Farms, which is a queer-owned farm, and Grit City Farms, which is a farm here in Tacoma, and so on, and so it’s all these people who are making the bagels. It’s not just us.”

So “Tacoma-style bagels” are community bagels?

Yes!” Carter says. “Absolutely. And starting up Howdy Bagel has been a great reminder for us of the idea that, beyond the trendiness of eating local, you have a choice to support actual people in your community when you buy food. Someone is bringing these eggs to us every week, and we’re talking to them and having a personal connection with them. It’s a relationship that goes beyond what you’re putting in your mouth.” 

This joint is jumpin’! The end of the Howdy Bagel line trails in around early afternoon—it’s coffee service only once they run out of bagels. MEG VAN HUYGEN

When asked how they’ve been handling the rush, Carter says it’s been crazy, but they’re actually having the time of their lives. “It’s because we have the sweetest, funnest, coolest employees, honestly. Everyone is the best. I don’t want to use the word family because I feel like it can be manipulative, as an employer. But we’ve been calling ourselves a bagel summer camp, because it’s so fun.”

He describes the team working super hard during the day, to make sure everyone in line gets fed, and hanging out as friends when it’s done. “At the end of the day, we all come together again to have a beer and talk about how much we love bagels. Just… Daniel and I had no idea this whole situation would happen when we opened, but oh, my god, what a joy it’s been. Coming to work totally does feel like camp, every day.”

Howdy Bagel, 5421 S Tacoma Way, open Tues-Fri 7 am-3 pm and Sat-Sun 8 am-3 pm.

If you want to suggest a name for the pin-up cattleperson on the Howdy Bagel logo, please comment below. All I can think of is Howard, and I know you can do better than that.