Student entrepreneurs to open Green Street bagel shop

Logo courtesy of Howbowda Bagel

Logo courtesy of Howbowda Bagel

By Meghan O'Kelly

Two unassuming students lurking in front of the vacant retail space near the corner of Wright and Green streets have their sights set on more than it might seem first glance. Ryan McNeily, senior in LAS, and Dustin Canter, graduate student, have been conducting what they call “market research.”

For seven months, the pair have been ironing out the details of their entrepreneurial venture called Howbowda Bagel, set to open June 9. After trying to open the bagel shop in the retail space in the 309 E. Green St. building currently under construction, they came across the former Drew’s Pizza location, 611 E. Green St., and realized it was too good to pass up.

“The number one thing I’ve learned in business is to be flexible,” McNeily said. “It’s been exponentially better than our other situation would have been.”

The menu is set to feature food for all times of the day, including a dessert bagel. The shop will open at 7 a.m. daily and stay open until 3 a.m. on the weekends for students hungry for their fourth meal. The core of the menu will consist of 25 to 30 steamed bagel sandwiches cooked in a high pressure steamer instead of the traditional toaster oven.

“Since being a freshman here I have noticed that I can’t buy a good bagel in Champaign,” McNeily said. “And I love bagels.”

The entrepreneurs hope to open a second location on day 366 of business in 2009. Eventually, they plan to set up Howbowda Bagel as a franchise operation.

“Dustin and I think that because we’re so familiar with this demographic, we feel very good about the storefront,” McNeily said. “In a couple years, we hope we can set up a franchise model, so people who are familiar with their own demographic can take our idea and stamp it down where they are.”

Isaac Kim, freshman in LAS, said he sees a need for such an establishment.

“I hope it is a success,” he said. “It will bring more variety, and variety is good.”

The pair are still deciding exactly what cosmetic changes will be made to the space, but they do know the restaurant will boast eco-friendly bamboo floors, a theme which will carry on to other aspects of the business.

“We have a million things to do in a short amount of time,” Canter said, explaining that Howbowda Bagel will soon hire between four and six employees for the summer as well as conduct a marketing campaign that will include taste testing and free samples. “We’re trying to get eyeballs pointed toward the store right now.”

Canter and McNeily said they hope to accumulate enough money for their company, Vassal Corporation, to eventually help people who possess a similar entrepreneurial spirit.

“I think everyone at the end of the day wants to be their own boss, and you don’t want to be working for other people if you can help it,” McNeily said. “It’s a lot of work, but the real payment is the autonomy.”

Canter said he is proud of the evolution of the pair’s idea and how they have overcome the obstacles of being young entrepreneurs with little money to make their dream a reality.

“You have to be confident and believe in what you’re doing,” Canter said. “We’re always looking for great ideas and are very driven.”