It all began with a sourdough starter. Big Sky Bagels was born and “raised” thanks to a sourdough starter Lizzie Webb started during the beginning phases of COVID-19.
“Once we were unemployed and stuck at home during COVID-19, I started doing lots of cooking and other projects. I saw a sourdough starter I had in the back of the fridge and decided to go for it. Sourdough starters grows exponentially when you feed it and I felt bad throwing away the leftovers,” Lizzie explained. “I thought of what else I could make besides just bread and I found a recipe for sourdough bagels.”
That was how Big Sky Bagels came about, COVID-19, a sourdough starter and two ambitious, out-of-work theatre actors, Lizzie Webb and her husband Scoob Dexter.
Lizzie is the daughter of former Cut Bank residents Dr. Randy and Gina Webb, and a Cut Bank High School graduate. Scoob is from Kalispell and is a Flathead High School graduate. The duo, who now live in the Flathead Valley, put their at-home, COVID isolation time to good use by doing some baking experiments in the kitchen. The result? A fabulous, yummy, New York style bagel.
“I have loved bagels since I first tried them as a child. Then, when I lived in New York, I would have a few bagels a week, so I knew that they would be something I would like to eat,” Lizzie said. “The first batch I made with the sourdough was incredible and I shared them with some friends who said that we had to start selling them.”
Scoob encouraged her to start her own business and when she posted on Facebook she was making and selling bagels, her friends and family got onboard immediately.
“The response was overwhelming,” she said. “Within a week, we had formed an LLC, registered the business name, started a website and decided to go all in.”
And “all in” is exactly what this pair has done and accomplished with Big Sky Bagels.
Right now, they are taking online orders, delivering and selling to people in the Flathead Valley area, as well as delivering to Missoula and to Cut Bank, every other week.
“The easiest way to find our weekly menu and place an order is to follow us on Facebook,” Lizzie suggested. “We post the delivery schedule there each week, along with the flavors and prices. Then people send us a private message to place their order. We also have a website at www.bigskybagels.net, where you can learn more about us and contact us there if you don’t have Facebook.”
Lizzie said most of their bagels are $20 a dozen, with specialty bagels priced out at $24 a dozen.
“We have about six different flavors each week, but always keep the favorites– everything bagel, whole wheat blueberry and a cheese bagel. Then I fill in the menu with other flavors I want to try that week,” said Lizzie.
“We’ve had simple flavors like spinach and herb, cinnamon raisin, Asiago cheese and more exotic flavors like orange cardamom, tropical pineapple with toasted coconut and carrot cake. I am working on a pumpernickel bagel and a pretzel bagel roll. And later in the summer, we will definitely have huckleberry and Flathead cherry bagels, which fall under the specialty bagel category,” she explained.
They deliver to the Flathead Valley each week. And every other week, they will deliver to Missoula and Cut Bank. You can order by the dozen, or half dozen and each week, they offer a sampler bagel bag that has three different flavors in it.
The bagels they are making are traditional New York style, boiled bagels.
“That is a distinction, because most bagels you get in the grocery store and even some bagel shops, are basically dinner rolls in the shape of a bagel,” Lizzie said. “They use a soft dough and they aren’t boiled. Bagels are supposed to be very dense and the outside has a chewy crust to it because of the boiling.”
The bagel business for Big Sky Bagels grew so fast in their first month, that this baking pair discovered they are growing out of their kitchen. They also realized adding an industrial mixer to the “mix” was a must, especially since they are kneading 15 to 20 batches of a dough at a time, which was not only time consuming, but difficult.
“That mixer has a been a game-changer,” Lizzie shared.
However, even with the new mixer, making bagels is not a fast process or an easy one, either.
“A typical bake day involves feeding the sourdough starter, then four hours later, making the dough for the bagels, then four hours after that, shaping the dough, boiling, baking, cooling and packaging. Baking a large order can often take five to six hours,” Lizzie said.
Right now, Big Sky Bagels is run by Lizzie and Scoob, who not only do all the work baking, but do all the packaging, deliveries, cleaning and keeping the books for the business.
“As of right now, we aren’t adding any employees, but if friends and family are around on a bake day, we put them to work,” laughed Lizzie.
Both Lizzie and Scoob’s professional theatre careers, were put on hold when the pandemic became a reality for the entire country.
“Both of us have consistently been doing theatre both at the educational, community and professional level since graduating high school,” she said. “We started this business because we both lost our jobs due to COVID-19. It is really difficult even under normal circumstances to be a performer and constantly move around for jobs. When there is no work, you have to find a survival job.”
She continued, “ We have been looking for something to make our own here in Montana so that when we aren’t working in the theatre, we have a job to come home to. Coronavirus sort of forced our hand on that one, but honestly, we are so glad that we started this.”
Lizzie said the work will be sort of “seasonal” as that relates to their lives as performers. “We can’t wait to get back to performing in theatre, but for now, we just don’t know when that will be.”
So, for now, bagels are the business at hand. And if orders received and orders loved, are any indication of the success of Big Sky Bagels, then it is a performance worthy of a standing ovation!