The first time Leo Barnes tried to make a batch of bagels was on Mother’s Day in 2020. “They were the type of bagel that only a mother could love,” Leo says, his eyes sparkling with humor. “I hadn’t figured out the right recipe.” In addition, he had only let the “poolish” sit for two hours.
He knows now that eight hours is ideal. “The longer you give the
ingredients time to sit and get acquainted with each other, the better
the bagel,” he explains. “You got to hand it to the yeast—it’s sort of a
was a sophomore going to Hanover High via Zoom during quarantine, and
he found himself with plenty of free time to experiment with his bagel
recipe. He says he was motivated by the lack of bagels in the Upper
Valley that matched the freshness and taste of the delis back in Los
Angeles, where he used to live. According to Leo, popular delis in LA
are sold out of bagels by noon, while in the less populated Upper
Valley, bagels can sit around much longer. Leo feels that the optimum
time to eat a bagel is within six hours of baking it.
kept baking and researching and watching YouTube videos. He finally
settled on a recipe he says is close to Martin’s Bagels from King Arthur
Baking Company, where he gets his flour. “Eventually, while
experimenting, I found that there is a limit to how many bagels one
household can eat! COVID is off to the races, and here I am making bagels
in my kitchen, feeling an urge to help,” he says. His father had
started volunteering at the Upper Valley Haven in Hartford, which gave
Leo the idea to donate some of his new and improved bagels to the food
shelf. “Luckily for me, Lori Wick (food shelf manager at the Haven) was
very receptive to me and my bagels,” he says.
a few months and Leo was back to in-person schooling as a junior taking
an entrepreneurship class with social studies teacher Tim Berube. Leo
learned that the Magnuson Center for Entrepreneurship at Dartmouth
sponsors a yearly contest, providing prize money for the best business
making and donating were still on Leo’s mind as he mulled over project
ideas for the contest. He had been thinking that his own baking
adventures were not making enough of an impact to meet local need. If he
could teach others how to make bagels and then encourage those bakers
to donate half of their dozen
to a worthy recipient, his bagels would reach more hungry mouths. Leo
designed a bagel-making kit that comes with a handle, similar to those
used to carry donut holes, and includes all the premeasured ingredients
needed to make a dozen bagels as well as step-by-step written and
videotaped instructions. The kit also includes a tasty offer for
customers: 50 percent off a second kit when they post #charitybagels on
social media, sharing where they donated.
Leo’s business idea won the Entrepreneurship contest that year, and he used the $1,000 prize as seed money to launch
Charity Bagels. He worked out of his home, putting together his
specially ordered boxes and measuring out the ingredients for each kit,
and then he took the kits to the local farmers’ market to sell.
Customers who have used the kits rave about the taste. “No one has ever
told me that the bagels weren’t fantastic,” he says.
Getting the Community Involved
was surprised when Charity Bagels became something more for people than
just donating bagels a single time to a charity. “When people donate
their bagels,” he says, “they like the feeling they get from giving.”
That positive experience with their local charity builds a relationship
and a habit of giving back to their community.
in his senior year, Leo came up with a plan to reach a bigger audience
for his Charity Bagels kits. He wanted to help the community, get
students involved, and fundraise for causes that matter, so he offered
the kits to schools and organizations to help them raise money. People who
donated more than $35 to a cause would receive a bagel kit as an
kits have since helped raise $1,155 at Hanover High School to
help the class of 2022 make prom more affordable for lower-income
families, and $1,052 at Richmond Middle School for the Black Youth
Project. Leo has also been working with the Ray School to run a
fundraiser for the Haven, and the Hampshire Cooperative Nursery School
to help support their school’s mission. Woodstock Elementary is also
working with Leo to raise money for Ukraine, which he hopes is the first
of many to support them in their time of need.
has needed to hire fellow high schoolers as kit assemblers to keep up
with demand and is grappling with the growing pains that occur with any
new business. He has so far been juggling business appointments with
homework deadlines during his last semester of high school. He wants to
continue the business this fall, running fundraisers on an even larger
scale. He says the thought sometimes pops into his mind that this
business could really make a huge impact.
the future holds, Leo is determined to continue helping charities. “It
would be a shame if your legacy was collecting a big pile of money and
making the world a worse place in the process,” Leo says. “I think
business can be more than that and should be more than that.” For more
information, go to charity bagels.com.