Bagels have been on the menu at Lincoln Square’s Baker Miller since veterans Dave and Megan Miller opened the bakery a decade ago. Their popularity soared so much that the Millers created a separate Miller Bagel Instagram handle in 2015 to reserve the name, just in case they decided to one day open a deli.
“We never really had the chance,” David Miller says. “We always thought it would be a different location or different concept.”
With their lease up for renewal in February in Lincoln Square and more uncertainty with rising COVID cases, and rising inflation the Millers decided, now was the time to try something new. Baker Miller relaunched as Miller Bagel on Saturday, January 7.
“With Baker Miller, the food was good, but we were on autopilot a little bit,” Miller says. “Now we’re able to be a little more creative and have a little more freedom. Because of that, some of the flavors are more exciting, so we’re getting really good feedback on it.”
While most of the original concept’s Midwestern menu has been scrapped (Miller Bagel isn’t a New York bagel shop), diners will still find favorites like doughboys and pastrami, with cinnamon rolls offered on weekends. The new menu features staples like a tuna melt while also incorporating the Millers’ love of Asian flavors. A sushi-inspired Philly Roll combines smoked salmon, cucumber, cream cheese, nori, soy sauce, and furikake while the Joni incorporates gochujang cream cheese, bacon, and pickled carrots. More vegan and gluten-free options are in the works.
“What we’re doing is kind of hitting the basic mark of what you would expect at a deli, but then we have this whole element of our menu that’s us just having fun,” Miller says.
A deli case has been added to the space showing off their selection of salads, soups and bagels, which are also offered by the dozen. A walk-up window has proved very popular, but Miller would like more people to actually come in and dine. The restaurant didn’t take online orders over the weekend in order to avoid being overwhelmed, but they’ll be bringing the option back on Wednesday or Thursday.
“We’ll be trying to figure out how to create more experiences,” he says. “A to-go business is fine, but when you have an empty dining room, it’s just not as nice.”
The restaurant is also planning regular collaborations with some of the many food businesses that have launched as pop-ups since the pandemic including Umamicue and Milky Milky. Profits from the monthly guest bagel will benefit a charity of the chef’s choice.
“I already have a list of 50 people to do collaborations with,” says Miller, a co-founder of Bang Bang Pie Shop. “All of that was spurred on by COVID and realizing that we need to have a business that’s a little bit more with the times.”
Bagels were also served at the now-shuttered shop Baker Miller operated near the Francisco Brown Line stop, but the Miller Bagel concept first really tested as a cloud kitchen during Chicago’s COVID lockdown. A streamlined menu helped the business keep down costs, which is especially important during the current inflationary period.
“While customers have been experiencing 8-percent to 10-percent inflation, restaurants are experiencing it a lot higher,” Miller says. “We can’t raise our prices 20 to 25 percent so a lot of us are shouldering it by letting it eat into our margins, which means we are all personally working more and personally suffering.”
The Millers need to decide whether or not to renew their current lease for another five years by February 1. If the concept isn’t successful, they’ll move to a more affordable spot in Lincoln Square.
“There’s lots of tiny little vacancies all around the city right now, and landlords are begging for people to come take them,” Miller says.
If sales remain strong, they’ll stay put and possibly look at expanding the Miller Bagel concept to food halls and other locations throughout the city.
“Bagel shops have a really great economy of scale if you do it right,” Miller says. “I’ve done a lot of consulting for other bagel brands, so it’s something I’ve learned pretty well. We’re like, ‘why are we always doing this for everybody else? Why don’t we figure out how to do this for ourselves?’”
Miller Bagel, 4655 N. Lincoln Avenue, (773) 923-3067, open 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesday to Friday; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.