Bagelvangelist Murray Lender, of Lender's Bagels, has died

The Economist has a great piece out today on the life and legacy of Lender's Bagels founder Murray Lender, who died one month ago at age 81. He is credited with making the bagel a mainstream breakfast staple throughout America. Without him, memes like the one above, and possibly bagels like the one above, would not exist in our pop culture mindspace—or in our tummies. (pic via @nopattern)


  1. I won’t snob out. I’ve bought & eaten plenty of Lender’s Bagels. Knowledge of bagels outside of a few enclaves is largely due to the Lender Bros.

    But they’re not, like, bagels. More like chewy toroidal buns. A real bagel is shiny and hard on the outside. You need good teeth to tear off chunks.

    1. While we have Lender to thank for the widespread availability of wide-mouth toasters that can handle bagels, I suspect we also have him to blame for the fact that most people think Nova Scotia smoked salmon is lox, and it’s so hard to find real lox (the brine-cured stuff) nowadays. 

      1. You make do.

        Let me tell you how I try to be a mensch.

        My company has a Free Bagel and Donut breakfast on Fridays. They’re Noah’s bagels, a few steps above Lenders. I’m OK with Lenders and these are better, so they’re appreciated.

        Three or four times a year, I show up early and put out a platter of smoked salmon from Costco, a sliced up red onion, and a jar of capers. It costs me about $27, about three times what a salmon bagel sandwich would cost me at a bagel shop. But in addition to the one I get to eat myself, I get to see a dozen or so co-workers enjoying this awesome thing.

        Even with faux-lox, a salmon bagel with the trimmings is glorious, glorious, glorious!

      2. I make _my_ brine-cured lox at home. 

        It’s true  though- while a decent substitute for lox, smoked salmon is not proper lox which are brine-cured. Of course, brine-cured lox might be cold-smoked for flavor. The cold smoking doesn’t cure or cook the salmon.

        Here is a link with a  few brief definitions: 

        But seriously I really do roll my own —  it’s not that hard. I have my variations, but here is  a link to a good basic one that is identical to the one I found 15-20 years ago: 

        For shits and giggles I will add a tablespoon or three of stuff like scotch, tequila or some other liquor.

    2. And this is the precise reason I do not, overall, like bagels. If I wanted something that could not properly hold whatever I try to put into it and behaved like a mix between a piece of chewing gum made of bread dough and a jawbreaker, I would attempt to bake bread myself again.

        1. *bake bagels myself. Sorry for that inaccuracy.

          Though I did once manage to make baking bread explode in the oven.

    3. Real bagels aren’t very hard on the outside or hard to chew if you get them at the shop the night they’re made, right out of the oven, when the shop windows are steamed over because they’ve just run up a big batch to deliver to restaurants for the morning breakfast trade.  They’re still not hard by the time you sneak them into the cheap movie theater next door to eat while during the show, and are way better than the popcorn.

      But yeah, I ate Lender’s bagels in college.  We kept them in our marginally-legal dorm fridge, and toasted them in our definitely-illegal toaster oven that we had to plug into the hallway socket to get around the dorm room circuit breakers.  They weren’t great, but they were available, and toasting helped.

    4.  *sigh*  Yes we all know.   It’s hard for me to believe, growing up in the Northeast where good REAL bagels are easy to find, but for a long time most of America didn’t even know what a bagel was. 

      A story told by a friend’s father (maybe apocryphal): he was traveling down south in the early 70’s, around the time so many Yankees were retiring to Florida, and he stopped at a small diner along the I-95 corridor (Georgia maybe), and on the wall was a dusty, rock-hard string of bagels.  He asked the waitress what they were doing there.  Her reply: “Oh, them’r ‘bay-jels’, we’re not sure whut they’re for.”


  2. How could he be ony 81 if he was the founder and they were founded in 1927 like it says on that there bag?   

    1.  Because time is shaped like the 4th dimensional projection of a toroidal surface.

      With poppy seeds.

    2. Good looking out. Murray didn’t found Lender’s Bagels, his father, Harry Lender did, four years before Murray was born.

    3. As much as I like the more interesting explanations, his company claims descent from his parents’ bakery. The company as we know it didn’t exist until the 1950s.

  3. My hometown, the city of Mattoon, Illinois, hosts Bagelfest every year to celebrate the Lender’s Bagel plant originally brought to town by Kraft when Lender’s was purchased by Kraft in the 1980’s.  They close down the streets, host a free Bagel breakfast, crown a Bagel queen, etc.  It’s grown over the years into a weekend-long event.  
    It’s a weird mix of midwest meets N.Y.  Murry would show up every year.  He’ll be missed.  
    Hopefully the smell of garlic (Thursdays) and blueberry (Tuesdays) will continue wafting from the (now Kellog) plant. 

    1.  Kilteddad,

      My grandparents (now both passed on) lived in Mattoon, and every summer when we’d visit we’d go outside to sniff the air to see what might be baking that day.  That was one of my favorite memories.

      1. That’s gotta smell better than the Kraft cheese factory in Champaign.  That is one of my most malodorous memories from the 70s.

  4. An everything bagel (untoasted!) with cream cheese and a slice of tomato is an awesome breakfast combination. Top with red onion for extra win.

  5. To me, “Lender’s Bagels” represents the moment Jewish/Yiddish culture in the U.S. started to die. It’s a watered-down and cleaned up version of ethnicity.

  6. The absolute WORST bagel I’ve had, I bought at a chain restaurant during a business trip. It was a national fast food chain, at an outlet in the midwest. I saw “bagel” on the breakfast menu, and bought it along with juice and coffee.

    The “bagel” came in a sealed pouch. It was bagel shaped, but otherwise almost exactly like a Kaiser roll. Only softer. It was dusted with sesame seeds.

  7. I’m just beating a dead horse here, but if this guy was such a fan of bagels, why were his bagels so terrible?  Other than being roughly toroidal,  Lenders bagels had almost nothing in common with a *proper* NY bagel.

    1. There’s obviously debate over what makes a *proper* bagel, but if you’re talking about those big pillowy things, that’s not a real bagel, that’s toroidal bread. Real bagels are boiled briefly before being baked, which gives them the firm, glossy crust.

Comments are closed.