Photo by Kara Crabb

Can people tell the difference between Fairmont and St-Viateur bagels?

Kara Crabb
June 06, 2018

Bagel Wars in North America have been ongoing for decades, if not centuries, beginning with the first settlements of Jewish immigrants in New York and Montreal. While the central conflict may be rooted in a divergence between the preparation methods in New York and Montreal, a more fine-grain problem arises inside the boundaries of the cities themselves. In particular, bagel juggernauts of the Montreal borough of Mile End duel for the loyalty of their patrons and immigrants anew.

St-Viateur Bagel and Fairmont Bagel both lay claim to partnerships with local brunch restaurants and cafes, citywide, and their headquarters are within a few blocks of each other. The neighborhood proper is host to a heterogeneous population of poor hipsters, attractive young families, and Hasidic Jews, all of whom seem to enjoy the fruits of these bagels shops, with many people being fiercely loyal to one of them.

In an attempt to forge bonds between adherents of the dichotomous tribes, I conducted a blind taste test in a public park amongst eight bagel-loving Montreal residents.
 

Photo by Kara Crabb

The Method

First, participants were asked to declare their preference for either Fairmont Bagel or St-Viateur Bagel.

Then participants tasted and consumed unlabelled pieces of sesame seed bagels from the two businesses.

The order in which the bagels were consumed was switched for every other participant, ensuring a reduction of bias for recency or primacy effects.

The Survey Results

In the initial survey, before the taste test, 12.5% of people declared a preference for Fairmont Bagel.

34.5% declared a preference for St-Viateur Bagel.

50% remained indecisive about their loyalties. This was perhaps a potential confound of the experimental design and/or setting. In their comments, one participant argued that the space of the bakeries weighed into their strong preferences for St-Viateur, since St-Viateur presents open access for refrigerated grocery items, like salmon and cream cheese, whereas Fairmont Bagel retains their grocery items behind an enclosed refrigerator exclusive to employees, and wherein an employee must go fetch the desired grocery item upon a customer’s request.

The Taste Test Results

In the blind taste test experiment, a significant preferences was indicated for St-Viateur, with 87.5% of participants selecting the brand as their favorite. Participants described the St-Viateur Bagel bagel as “rounded,” “chewy,” and “bright.”

12.5% of participants preferred Fairmont Bagel. They described the bagel from Fairmont Bagel as comparatively “earthy,” “crunchy,” and “bland.”

Photo by Kara Crabb

Field Notes

The handmade qualities of both St-Viateur Bagel and Fairmont Bagel are paramount in the attraction of customers. Bakers at both each locations can be seen making bagels with their hands in clear view from the street. Does this idiosyncratic virtue come at an expense for quality control, though? The bagels used in the experiment from Fairmont Bagel were markedly smaller and thinner than those from St-Viateur. This may be subject to change upon a different date, different batch, and different baker.

While the original intent was to quash the incendiary battle between bagel loyalists, assuming no difference between St-Viateur Bagel and Fairmont Bagel bagels, the results of this experiment only catalyze a greater need for equivocality. Either that, or a truly superior bagel may rise to the ranks of municipal domination.

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