Students at Belmont University may have noticed a new development on Belmont Boulevard over the past several months – namely, the transformation of the old Salon Stephen building into a modern, chic, all-black building.
Fans of New York-style breakfasts will be pleased to know that the building is now home to Proper Bagel. Originating in the North, the family-run business moved down to Florida before coming to Nashville.
“We have never franchised or opened more than one location at a time due to quality control. We are all very hands-on and can’t be in two places at once,” said Heather Espansa, who is opening the store with her parents, Marcy and Carmine Speranza, and husband, Alex Espansa.
The story of Nashville’s Proper Bagel is one of collaboration; Espansa and her husband were living in Los Angeles but after Espansa’s parents sold their café in Florida, the four decided to move to Nashville together. It seemed like the perfect place to start another business.
“The people in this city are so welcoming and genuine, said Espansa. “We loved the idea of being in a place with culinary creativity and a sense of community.”
It took a while to find a place in the right neighborhood, but once the location on Belmont Boulevard appeared the family knew it was the right spot. It was exactly what they were looking for in terms of location and space.
“We loved the idea of being in a freestanding, private, vintage building, so while designing the space we wanted to keep some of that integrity and charm while giving it some major and much needed upgrades,” said Espansa.
Her parents are adamant about staying true to their product, something that comes through in the traditional style of the food they serve, said Espansa. Proper Bagel takes its name from the fact that the bagels served in the cafe are made the “proper” way in a six-step, intensive process.
“Most bagel shops bake their bagels on a rack oven or don’t kettle boil them at all. We not only kettle boil our bagels but also bake them in a stone-lined bagel oven similar to a pizza oven,” said Espansa.
In addition to the kettle-boiled bagels, Proper Bagel will be serving custom-whipped cream cheese, smoked salmon flown in from New York and seasonal salads and sandwiches. Items from the salad and fish display cases can be purchased by the pound in the marketplace, another feature of the café.
Customers will also have the option of New York-style sweets as well as Barista Parlor coffee and espresso. Looking to the future, Espansa and her family hope to incorporate a brunch menu featuring several specialty items.
“We will offer items such as rosewater waffles and banana and bacon pancakes with peanut butter syrup,” said Espansa.
Along with 12-string guitars and vintage clothes, Nashville has no shortage of places to buy a breakfast. With the firmly-established coffeehouse Bongo Java just two doors down, some may question the practicality of opening another cafe on Belmont Boulevard. However, Espansa is not concerned.
“I think that Bongo Java has a different vibe and menu than us. I think it’s great that there are options for people in the neighborhood and city,” she said.
The “vibe” of Proper Bagel is aimed towards those who are looking for a taste of the “Big Apple” without leaving their Nashville home. The space is small, but Espansa hopes to draw people from all over the city. The various incarnations of the cafe have always been family-oriented with customers of all ages.
The family is excited to be able to open their doors after months of renovations. After some problems with construction and codes, Proper Bagel should be open in just a few short weeks.
This article was written by Naomi Bartlett.