Pop into Moe’s Broadway Bagel on a Thursday, and it’ll feel like you walked into a mini family reunion.
The Sherman family — Peter Sherman, his parents, uncle and two sisters — get together every Thursday morning to bake and braid traditional Jewish challah bread. Later that afternoon when it’s cooling, you can buy a challah hot out of the oven. The sweet honey scent fills the shop; the Shermans use honey instead of cane sugar. It’s more expensive, but it’s the right way to do it, they say. Plus, mmm, the taste.
This tradition has been going strong for at least 12 years now, since Peter Sherman started working at Moe’s after college.
This is far from the only family tradition at this Boulder bakery.
In fact, Moe’s Bagel is built on family tradition, and it has been since they opened their first location in 1992.
Today, there are six total shops (four in Boulder, one in Louisville and one in Denver), with plans to open the seventh location in Longmont this summer.
The Family Kitchen
Family is how Moe’s Bagel rolls.
Even the name. It’s named after Moe, Peter Sherman’s great-grandfather. Moe the namesake wasn’t a baker though. Peter Sherman’s parents, Patty and John, learned how to make bagels back East from a “master bagel maker,” a third-generation baker in Vermont.
Patty and John Sherman met decades ago in Boulder. She was from Colorado, and he had moved here from New York, where he grew up. As a young couple with two daughters, they were looking for a career direction. Patty Sherman had always loved baking, and they both wanted to run their own business.
So they moved to Vermont, studied under the bagel master and then moved back to Boulder to open their own store. At the time, homemade, authentic bagels were rare; there was only one other bagel shop on Pearl Street, The Bagel Bakery.
The first Moe’s Broadway Bagel opened when Peter Sherman was just 4 years old. He can barely remember a life without the scent of bagels in the air. The kids took naps on sacks of flour in the back, and they were the official cream cheese taste-testers. (It’s also made in-house.)
Peter Sherman says he enjoyed the bakery life from day one.
“I grew up loving it,” he says.
When they got old enough, the kids worked there (doing more than eating cream cheese), alongside their parents. Nearly three decades later, their parents still come to the shop every day. John Sherman is up by 3 a.m. daily to make sure the bagels are warm and fresh.
“I have people saying, ‘Aren’t you and John going to retire?’” Patty Sherman says. “What would I do? This is such a big part of my life.”
In 2004, her brother Steve Pagnotta left his restaurant career in New York City to join the Moe’s team. Today, Pagnotta is the general manager. And son Peter Sherman runs the daily businesses alongside him.
Peter Sherman says it’s like Thanksgiving every day.
“And it’s wonderful,” he says. “We’re such a close-knit family, and we really do enjoy being together.”
Pagnotta says he feels lucky to work with family every day.
“We know each other so well,” he says. “We have different talents and abilities, and I think we complement each other well.”
Today, Patty Sherman says her grandchildren have become the new cream cheese taste-testers.
And the family extends beyond biology, she says. Some of the non-family employees have been around for more than 15 years and knew Peter Sherman when he was a little boy (he’s now 32 and 6-foot-4). Between the different branches, Moe’s has about 90 employees, and Patty Sherman knows every one of their birthdays by heart. She makes sure everyone gets a cake on their birthday.
Regular customers feel like family, too, she says. Like one group of about five senior citizens who have been visiting Moe’s for years. They’re at the 28th Street store every morning at 5:30 a.m., sometimes even before the doors open. In 2020, they began volunteering to take day-old bagel donations to police stations, hospitals, nursing homes and fire stations.
Patty Sherman says the number one priority of Moe’s is to treat customers well, like family.
“Each person is an individual, and we care about who they are,” she says.
Maybe that’s why Moe’s doesn’t really advertise, but has continued to grow. Instead of buying advertisements, Patty Sherman says they prefer to give away free bagels to customers.
“Why spend $2,000 on this ad if I can give away $2,000 to the people? That’s my thinking,” she says.
If you see an ad with Moe’s name on it, it’s probably just to announce they’re giving away free bagels with cream cheese. They do it for parents on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day (and that includes “parents” of dogs). In the past, they’ve hidden free coupons around town in eggs on Easter, and they’ve helped refuel runners for free at the Bolder Boulder.
“We donate pretty much every single day of the year,” says Pagnotta. “We donate to assisted living facilities. John loves going to the hospitals and to senior centers, fire stations. Every single morning without anyone asking, he brings out donations — to schools, churches, nonprofits, just donating bagels, every configuration you can think of. Waste not, want not.”
Boiled and Baked
Although the family has grown bigger and so has the store’s reach, the core values and the bagels — boiled and baked, the traditional way — remain the same. About 15 different types of cream cheese are still handmade fresh every day at all stores.
The biggest change has been in the ingredients, from traditional to organic flour. Today’s eggs come from pasture-raised chickens and Moe’s uses no-nitrate meats in its sandwiches.
“We tried to evolve with Boulder and what we want to feed our kids,” says Peter Sherman. “We try to make wholesome food for the whole community.”
One reason Moe’s bagels taste similar to authentic New York bagels is Boulder’s fresh water, which is similar to the water in New York, says Pagnotta.
“As with all baking, it’s an exacting science. The ingredients are simple — just flour, water, yeast, a little salt and honey — but you have to be very exacting about it,” he says.
To be an authentic bagel, it must be boiled, he adds. You make the dough, let it slow-rise for a few days in refrigeration to activate the yeast and then boil it. The last step is baking. That’s what leads to the texture, with a shell on the outside and chewy inside.
Peter Sherman says Moe’s bagels are so expertly created that they don’t need toasted.
His mom says she still eats a bagel every day.
“I still love them, after about 30 years,” she says.
Her bagel of choice? A hot poppyseed bagel straight out of the oven with butter. Her son agrees. So does Uncle Steve.
“You cannot beat that,” Patty Sherman says. “It is simple, and it is the best.”