A LOCAL LEGACY
The story of Marx Bagels begins over 50 years ago with John Marx, a.k.a. Bagelman. Marx was a hardworking entrepreneur with style and flair. His passion for bagels resulted in the doughnut shaped rolls becoming a standard fare in Cincinnati.
But before we get to Marx’s story, we have the garment industry to thank for the bagel finding its way to Cincinnati from New York City. In 1961 Hal and Audrey Block, with their two sons, Steve and Alan, moved from the Big Apple to Columbus, Ohio. Block, son of a Jewish peddler in New York, was a traveling salesman in the garment industry. He and a coworker Eddie Kaye had been sent to the Midwest by their company. Both of their wives lamented their inability to buy bagels in the “hinterland outpost” of Ohio.
They contacted a New York cousin of Block’s, whose father was an old-time bagel baker, and used his recipes to start their first bagel bakery in Columbus, Ohio, called Hot Bagels, Inc., in 1967 at Kellner Road. At the time, it offered seven varieties of bagels, with lox and cream cheese.
Following its success, they opened another Hot Bagels Factory, on Reading Road in Cincinnati’s Jewish Roselawn community, and hired John Marx, a Catholic, and former Mt. Adams bar bouncer as manager. When they went into receivership in 1969, John bought and took over the business, renaming it Marx’s Hot Bagels.
To appreciate Marx’s success, it’s important to know that growing up Marx had his share of difficulties. Marx was born in Chicago. His family moved to Cincinnati when he was very young. He grew up in Walnut Hills. His childhood was difficult to say the least, but in the 8th grade, at St. Francis de Sales, Marx met a young nun, Sister Tera Seda, who was a major influence in his life. She gave him the mothering that he longed for, and she gave him advice that stayed with him.
Marx’s teenage years were tumultuous, getting into fights, always trying to be the tough guy and as a result he left one school after another, never graduating, and as happy to leave as his teachers were to see him go. In most respects Marx did not fit the traditional mold.
At 17 years of age, influenced by his dad being a baker for a time, young Marx signed on at Kroger's bakery located at 8th & State. He then bounced around between several other local bakeries, like Albers, Rubel's, Butternut, Klosterman's and Rainbow.
In 1969 Marx settled in at Bagels, USA in Roselawn, where he unloaded trucks, swept floors, baked a bit, and was making minimum wages. There he worked with a Greek man, skilled at cutting and shaping wet dough into bagels. He taught Marx the art of rolling.
Two years later, the bakery was in receivership. To keep it going, the lawyers involved made Marx the manager. The business was in bankruptcy, his staff was no older than 20 years old and it was at this moment that he remembers advice from Sister Tera Seda “You don’t go to a job asking for how much you are going to make. You make yourself worthwhile”.
Eventually Marx acquired the shop he had been managing. He agreed to pay $60,000 in installments and bought the business. Marx rolled dough and baked, while his wife Danielle kept the books. Over time, Marx moved locations and opened new shops, but eventually landed on a single location in Blue Ash.
Over Marx’s 50 years in business, he was often encouraged to add meats but always maintained strict kosher standards. He did, however, frequently experiment with new bagel recipes. As the number of bagel flavors expanded, so did Marx’s personality. He ran the shop in his own unique way. Regulars expected and even sought out his unfiltered candor. He was the Mike Ditka of bakery owners, working fast, coaching his staff, and even using a dinner bell on occasion as a way to organize lunch rush.
Being Cincinnati’s OG of bagels, Marx developed a character to personify his status as the cities number one bagel man. So, when the mood struck Marx, he would transform into his alter-ego Bagelman. He would don an outfit of blue tights and a cape, irreverently schmooze with customers, make public appearances, and even riding his bike through the streets of Blue Ash. The store came to be known as the “Wonderful, wacky, world of Bagelman”.
Despite the clowning Marx was a serious man, and unlike many clowns, he was a very candid one. He was upfront about the difficulties in his life and quick to share his experiences. In fact, he always gave generously to local causes and many of the staff Marx employed were troubled youth or ex-convicts. He understood it's important for young people to realize that even when you start at the bottom, you're not trapped. Marx’s shop was an experience and still is today.
In 2019, YY Davis and his wife Rena, both orthodox Jews, purchased Marx Hot Bagels from John Marx. The couple strive to maintain the legacy that Marx has created over the past 50 years. They realize the importance of the heritage brand and the roll Marx plays in the community. While bagels are no longer a rarity in Ohio, Marx Bagels stands out due to our quality ingredients, traditional baking processes, and authentic roots.
With a close eye on maintaining tradition, the new owners look to carry the Marx Bagels brand long into the future.