Family's new downtown Chattanooga shop is on the rise

photo Tom and Jennifer Bleasdale work the digital register at Go Bagel on Thursday. The Bleasdale family has opened up a new restaurant, headed up by siblings Tom and Jennifer, on Chestnut Street.

On a Friday afternoon in late October, Jennifer Bleasdale and her sister-in-law, Melissa Bleasdale, chatted with a customer as they prepared bagels.

Jennifer and her brother, Tom Bleasdale, opened Go Bagels as part of Project Pop Up, a River City Co.-sponsored business incubator at the corner of East M.L. King Boulevard and Chestnut Street.

Tom had just arrived from getting tools to fix a wobbly table. He was at work at 4 a.m., making bagels, including a new bacon and egg flavor.

"I think she wants Coke," he said when Jennifer reached for a coffee cup for a customer's drink.

She laughed at her error. "I didn't have enough coffee myself today."

Tom and Jennifer grew up in the North, first in Massachusetts, then on a dairy farm in upstate New York. They come from a large family -- they are siblings No. 11 and No. 12 of 13 children, with an age range of about 25 years, Jennifer said.

"We were very close, and we always got along well," Jennifer said of her relationship with Tom. "We've been fortunate enough to stay close over the years. He's a great person. I respect and admire him very much."

Before opening Go Bagel, she worked in corporate consulting, he in sales, working with one of their brothers in a window and siding business.

Currently, Tom lives in Chattanooga with his family, and Jennifer is a permanent resident of Asheville, N.C., though she and her family have been temporary residents of Chattanooga while they get the business off the ground.

Q: How did you come to work together?

• Jennifer: We've been talking about it for a long time. We'd wanted to maybe do something in business on our own together, so this became an opportunity for us.

Q: Why bagels?

• Jennifer: I like bagels a lot. We've been interested in doing something in food service, and we felt there was a need in Chattanooga. We enjoy baking and things like that.

• Tom: It was a confluence of events. There wasn't a bagel shop in Chattanooga. It seemed like a need we could meet.

Q: What's the secret of a good bagel?

• Jennifer: ... We boil the bagels before they are baked. That's considered a New York-style bagel.

• Tom: We put the dough in a retarder (a baking term), which allows the yeast to reproduce at a slow rate. This makes the bagels denser and more flavorful.

Q: How did you learn?

• Tom: Trial and error, and a couple of good books.

Q: Have you always been good in the kitchen?

• Tom: Not as good as my wife thinks I am. Not as good as my mother or my sister.

Q: How does owning a small business compare to corporate consulting?

• Jennifer: In a way it's similar because there's a lot of benefits and a lot of risk. When you're a consultant, you typically pay your own health benefits, you don't have so-called job security. You might work a six-month consulting job and then decide not to work for a while or you might not get another opportunity for a little while. At the same time, there's a lot of freedom.

Small business is sort of similar in that there's a lot of risk. You're putting out a lot of your own time and effort and financial ability, but at the same time it's under your control, to some degree.

Q: How do you divide the work?

• Jennifer: We both do a lot of the work as far as baking and things like that. Tom has been very instrumental in terms of the physical upfit of the space. He has designed and done a lot of the physical work. I have done a lot of the administrative work.

• Tom: She usually does what she's told, so it's going OK. That's tongue-in-cheek, of course.

Q: What do you do in your spare time?

• Jennifer: I'm a big reader. I read fiction, though I won't read anything depressing. I tend to read the John Grishams and the Steven Koontzes of this world. I like to garden. But the biggest thing for me is my family. I have a son and a daughter, and I have a wonderful husband.

• Tom: I hang around with my boy a lot. We used to have goats. I don't jog, and I don't play golf.

Q: Do you have any philosophies by which you live?

• Tom: I wouldn't venture down that road.

• Jennifer: My mother always told me that if you were going to give something to someone, you give them your best. I really do try to do that.

Contact Holly Leber at or 423-757-6391. Follow her on Twitter at Subscribe to her on Facebook at