Several days a week, Jacob Eichenbaum-Pikser ’10, owner of Sheikob’s Bagels, sets up his delivery bike on the sidewalks of Buenos Aires, Argentina to sell dozens of homemade bagels with cream cheese to passersby. In a place where many typical American breakfast staples are unfamiliar, Eichenbaum-Pikser has earned not only a steady following of patrons, but also the moniker “The Bagel Guy of Buenos Aires.”
Sheikob’s Bagels’ popularity has been fueled in part by a post on a well-known Buenos Aires food blog called “Pick Up the Fork” as well as a profile on Vice’s food blog, “Munchies,” last month. Though Eichenbaum-Pikser is quick to say that he’s “not famous,” he admits that “word gets around.”
“I have a community of devoted customers who come all the time,” he added.
For Eichenbaum-Pikser, a culinary career was not always part of the plan — at Brown, he concentrated in geology - physics/mathematics. In 2011, he enrolled in a PhD program in seismology, geology and tectonophysics at Columbia. Though Eichenbaum-Pikser initially found the program exciting, he ultimately decided to pursue other options.
“It gradually became apparent to me that I wasn’t as interested in it as I needed to be to justify doing it,” he said. “And you don’t do a PhD program unless it’s the only thing you can imagine yourself doing.”
After two years, Eichenbaum-Pikser made the decision to leave the program early with a master’s degree. He then began contemplating a move to Buenos Aires, largely inspired by his “amazing” study abroad experience there as a junior.
“I fell in love with certain aspects of the culture and the people. More than anything, the attitude towards life (there) was something I had never seen in the States. It felt a lot healthier,” he said.
After tying up loose ends in New York, Eichenbaum-Pikser moved to Buenos Aires in December 2013. Initially, he worked as an SAT tutor, a lucrative job that did not require long hours. In his free time, he learned how to make bagels.
“It was mainly because I really missed bagels, and you couldn’t get a good bagel down here,” he said. “Occasionally you would find them at bougie cafes, but they weren’t bagels, they were just pieces of bread with a hole in them.”
Not only are bagels rare in Argentina, but large breakfasts in general are uncommon, said Franco Bilik ’18 and Helen Gerstenfeld Abreu ’18, both of whom have lived in Buenos Aires. A typical breakfast in Argentina consists simply of a piece of toast and a cup of coffee, they added.“It’s not like the U.S.,” Bilik said. “Breakfast is really, really small.”
What started in June 2014 as a hobby has now grown into a popular small business and has become Eichenbaum-Pikser’s full-time job.
Over time, he has perfected his bagel and cream cheese recipes, invested in a cooking space and professional equipment and hired a business partner.
When it comes to bagel flavors, Eichenbaum-Pikser prefers to keep it simple, typically selling four types: everything, sesame, plain and poppy. He boils and bakes the bagels each morning and usually serves them as sandwiches with scallion or plain cream cheese and lox or tomato.
“I’m a little bit of a bagel purist. Especially because bagel culture doesn’t exist down here, I wanted it to be as authentic and traditional as possible,” he said.
Looking forward, Eichenbaum-Pikser said he’s not sure where the business will take him and that he is “taking it day by day.”
For now, he said, “the dream is just to be able to make more bagels.”