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Lincoln Square, North Center, Irving Park

A Photographer Started Baking In The Pandemic. Now, She And Her Husband Will Open R&A Bread Bakers In Lincoln Square

A friend gave co-founder Rachel Beltzman sourdough starter last year for her new baking hobby. Now, she's opening a bakery with bagel sandwiches.

Left to right: R&A Bread Bakers owners Rachel and Adam Beltzman in front of their new location, 1938 W. Lawrence Ave.
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LINCOLN SQUARE — R&A Bread Bakers started out when a friend gave Rachel Beltzman sourdough starter last year.

Now, after nearly a year of baking for friends and hosting “bagel drop” events for customers, Beltzman and her husband are set to move into a bakery at 1938 W. Lawrence Ave. this fall.

Beltzman took up baking in spring 2020, like many people stuck at home in the early days of the pandemic. She’d been a professional photographer for 12 years; but, when the stay at home order went into effect, she was unable to go out and photograph people. 

Being stuck at home felt stifling, so Beltzman sought a new creative outlet. When she decided to bake bread, she reached out to a pastry chef friend who dropped off the starter at her front door.

“It was so weird,” she said. “I’d never seen starter before. He also sent me a short video on how to feed the starter. I had no idea what I was doing.”

Beltzman found a simple sourdough boule recipe online and got to baking. Once it was done, she snapped a few photos and sent them to her pastry chef friend, who was impressed with her first try.

Credit: Provided.
A boule baked by Rachel Beltzman.

When he asked how the starter he gave her was doing, Beltzman said she’d need more because she tossed it out when she was done making the boule.

“It was such a foreign concept. He was like, ‘You what?’ I didn’t know I was supposed to keep it,” she said. “But I told him not to worry because I was going to make my own.”

Two weeks later, Beltzman had a viable starter and expanded her baking repertoire to include bagels. She began sharing photos of her creations online, and friends, some out of state, asked her to share her bagels with them and even offered to buy them.

“I just kept making bagels and people kept buying bagels,” she said.

Beltzman tried to get her friends to bake their own, but some weren’t interested or able to take the time. Others couldn’t get their bagels to turn out like Beltzman’s.

Credit: Provided.
Bagels baked by Rachel Beltzman.

“I’m a very consistent person. A creature of habit,” Beltzman said. “Doing something over and over again, day after day, is very comforting to me. Now, when I wake up, I feed the starter, and it’s reason for me to get up, especially during the early days of COVID.”

As the business evolved, customers also started ordering smoked lox and brisket from Beltzman’s husband, Adam Beltzman — who is “more of the meat guy,” she said.

Beltzman’s new hobby expanded into a cottage business for the Lincoln Square couple.

Credit: Provided.
Lox smoked by Adam Beltzman.

The R&A Bread Bakers property was formerly a Subway restaurant. It is perfect for the couple’s businesses because a lot of the equipment they needed, like a walk-in cooler, was left behind by the previous owner, Adam Beltzman said.

“Half the work was already done,” he said. 

And the Lawrence location is next to five bus stops and about a block north of the Damen Brown Line stop, which made the space attractive to the couple.

“We’re gonna see what the demand is at 7 a.m. when people are walking to the train for hot coffee and cold brew,” Adam Beltzman said. “We’re not going to necessarily have espresso drinks, but we’re gonna have a simple coffee program and offer bagel sandwiches.”

A combination of fresh-baked bagels, deep-dish pizza bagels, sourdough boule, nova lox, schmears and more will be on the menu once the Lawrence Avenue location opens, Rachel Beltzman said. 

“We really wanted a kitchen. More than we wanted a restaurant because with COVID still going on, we need the space to make the bagels, but we don’t really need the space for people to eat them,” Rachel Beltzman said. “We’re also looking at the commercial side of things — where we can wholesale and get it into different markets and different coffee shops.”

For more information on R&A Bread Bakers, visit its website.

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