James Dean (J.D.) Rocchio and Nick Schreiber co-own Belle’s Bagels on York Boulevard, a bagel business named after Schreiber’s great-grandmother, Belle. Rocchio and Schreiber have operated their business out of the Hi-Hat venue on York Boulevard for nearly two years, according to Rocchio. The business is now exploring a partnership with Occidental College to inhabit property purchased by Occidental for Oxy Arts in 2015 on York Boulevard.
According to Albina Ferreyra, Occidental’s operations project manager for the Office of Finance, Planning and Operations, Ferreyra contacted Rocchio and Schreiber to discuss their interest in opening a full shop on York Boulevard in collaboration with the college.
“Nick and JD have built the ideal entrepreneurial business that has the potential to flourish in Northeast Los Angeles,” Ferreyra said via email.
Belle’s Bagels is currently open Thursday through Sunday, sharing space in the Hi-Hat with Burgerlords. Rocchio said he received a phone call from Ferreyra about meeting to discuss potential collaboration.
“I saved the voicemail on my phone and probably will until the end of time,” Rocchio said.
Rocchio said he and Schreiber met Ferreyra and saw the Oxy Arts space June 2015. Renovations for the building are projected to finish by Fall 2018.
Schreiber said that he would love to expand the menu and grow the business, as there are lots of items, including egg sandwiches, that cannot be made in the small kitchen at the Hi-Hat. According to Schreiber, it is important for the business to remain in this area as they have developed relationships with their customers. They strongly believe the neighborhood needs a bagel shop.
“The college I went to, there was a bagel shop right nearby and it served as such an important meeting place for those nights after you definitely didn’t consume alcohol because you’re underage,” Schrieber said. “To me, it transcends age, class, whatever. No matter who you are, no matter what you do, there will be bagels, and you will probably like them.”
According to Rocchio, when the right opportunity comes up, they are willing to relocate Belle’s Bagels to a new space. Rocchio said he believes the opportunity would pull the Occidental campus down into York Boulevard and the local community. He said this would be beneficial to both Belle’s Bagels and Occidental, bringing both communities closer together.
Since the collaboration is not yet formal, Rocchio said that they currently plan to stay in the Hi-Hat. Their lease is signed incrementally, which gives them flexibility for future opportunities and expansion.
Schreiber started making bagels out of Rocchio and Schrieber’s Echo Park residence. As interest in the community grew and a customer base formed, their operations gradually developed into a business.
“We realized, maybe we are onto something, maybe LA is really hungry for bagels,” Schreiber said.
Shortly after, the duo started renting a space in Highland Park, but outgrew their first baking space after six months. Schreiber and Rocchio continued to cook out of their residence and participated in trade-shows before landing at the Hi-Hat in July 2016. The bagels are baked at a secondary kitchen in East LA and transported fresh in the mornings to York Boulevard, according to Schreiber. Although there are now eight employees on their payroll, Rocchio continues to head the administrative side of the business while Schreiber frontlines the baking.
According to Rocchio, he does not care about bagels but thought the business was a good idea. Schreiber, however, believes in the importance of bagels for LA.
“Aside from growing up as a Jew in Los Angeles, they are a very sentimental food for me — something I’ve always loved, something I’ve always eaten,” Schreiber said.
Schreiber said he believes it’s important to provide affordable food in a city where there are diverse socioeconomic classes. To Schreiber, bagels are the perfect harmony between accessibility, affordability and quality. Schreiber was further motivated by the inspiration of his great-grandmother, Belle, who was known in the family as a great baker.
“I want to make food that makes you comfortable, reminds you of home. That’s why I think Belle represents who we are,” Schreiber said. “And I will never get tired of people coming up to us and asking which one Belle is.”