Being an expat means learning to live without a lot of comforts that we ordinarily take for granted back home – things like bagels, ripe Haas avocados, extra-dry Martinis, corn tortillas and enforced traffic laws. Sometimes we meet people who have a hard time adjusting to a life without Pop-Tarts and spend their leisure time whining about everything that’s not like home. Other times you meet a person like Andrew Moffatt.
A physicist by education, Andy was crunching numbers as a bank analyst in his native Australia when it dawned on him that there was a hell of a lot more to life than making PowerPoint presentations and status reports. He turned his back on the safe and predictable career and spent the next four years traveling the world, picking up cooking tips along the way.
In Germany, he first heard about Georgia and was warned that the wine and food were so bewitching he wouldn’t want to leave. He would later learn that was no joke.
“I was traveling in Armenia, on my way to Azerbaijan when I realized I couldn’t just cross the border [the two countries have been in a state of war for some 30 years], so I came to Georgia for some khinkali. Somehow I woke up in Zugdidi and spent my second day in Mestia, Svaneti.”
For a traveler with a passion for cooking, he couldn’t have stumbled onto a better place. He spent the ensuing years traipsing across the country and learning about regional dishes from village women who rule their kitchens. Back in Tbilisi, he would try out his discoveries by hosting dinner parties for local and foreigner friends, sometimes “fusing” Georgian food with the cuisines of Asia and Mexico to see how far he could rock the boat before someone protested – but they never did.
In December 2019, Andy’s partner, Meagan, made a life-altering request. Could you make me a bagel, please? For the record, Dunkin’ Donuts in Tbilisi makes something called a bagel, but no bagel-loving person will touch them. So he acquiesced, and then made some for friends.
“I’m not really into baking but I like the process of making bagels. They are easy to tweak,” Andy says.
As his bank account was depleting, orders began coming in for bagels. Even when the pandemic arrived, the orders continued to come in.
“In one hour, I got seventy orders,” he says. His tiny kitchen was getting overwhelmed.
One large order came from Candy Treft, an American who was establishing a co-working and co-living space in a large house in Upper Vera, called Lokal. She invited Andy to join her last summer in Lokal’s modest kitchen.
“The businesses compliment each other. There are lots of benefits to working together, especially during the pandemic,” Candy says. And so Bagelin was born.
“I’m not really into baking but I like the process of making bagels. They are easy to tweak.”
While Tbilisi restaurants have been dropping like dominoes, Bagelin has been tallying up orders, one of a handful of food businesses that have taken off, although orders have tapered down in recent months.
“I used to work one day a week, then two, three days. I hired my first employee, then a delivery driver. During the first lockdown, I was getting up to 200 orders a day,” Andy explains. Now he’s getting about half that.
All ingredients are sourced from the Deserter’s Bazaar, including the peanuts for his homemade peanut butter. Andy also makes his own cream cheese, which is smeared between soft slices of bagels topped with Svanetian salt, adjika, rosemary and garlic, and even smoked sulguni cheese, among more standard varieties like sesame seed, and raisin. (Sadly, poppy seeds are not available in Georgia because they can be used to make an injectable opiate cocktail.)
Both Andy and Candy worked together at the Craft Beerfest last year and together have perhaps the best selection of bottled local beer in the city. Several months ago, Living Vino, a vegan restaurant and natural wine bar, moved into Lokal, where they share the kitchen with Bagelin.
As Tbilisi spaces go, Lokal is an oasis. There are many secret gardens hidden between old Soviet blocks, or behind brick walls in communal courtyards, but Candy’s passion for bringing together like-minded people from around the world sets a vibe that brings color to your cheeks. In the backyard there is a large wooden deck furnished like an enormous living room and a freshly planted garden with a scattering of small coffee tables and a wine bar by the fence.
Back in medieval Poland, where bagels were first recorded 500 years ago, they were believed to possess magical powers. That might explain how an Australian has accidentally made a living selling New York-style bagels in Tbilisi.
“It has worked. I don’t understand, but it’s worked,” Andy says.
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Published on March 12, 2021