When Black Seed bagel shop opened in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood in April 2014, the response among New Yorkers was overwhelming: Almost immediately, the tiny shop—owned by Mile End vet Noah Bernamoff and overseen by baker Dianna Daoheung—had lines out the door. By 3 p.m. on opening day, the place had completely sold out of its wood-fired, Montreal-style bagels—which critic Robert Sietsma heralded as “near-perfect.” In the last two years, Black Seed has expanded the operation to include a new, much bigger location in the East Village, which opened last fall at the former De Robertis bakery. Thanks to the increase in square footage, Daoheung was able to broaden the menu to salads and pizza bagels; earlier this month, she also launched a pastry program featuring a whole new selection of cookies, brownies and other baked goods. We spoke with Daoheung about the challenges of opening a bagel shop in Manhattan, the impetus behind her new pastry line, and her desire to one day bring a good artisanal bagel to Los Angeles.
So tell me a little bit about your background and how you ended up as part of the Mile End team.
I moved to New York about 11 years ago from Florida. I had just landed a job in advertising, but I wasn’t very passionate about it. After four years I was like, okay, either I stick with this or I leave now and figure out what I really want to do. I didn’t come to the conclusion at that point to start baking—I was just like, you know what? I'm going to take a small hiatus and figure out what I want to do. Like basically every college kid, I had restaurant experience, so I went back into that world to make a little extra cash. Ultimately that led me to cooking school; I went to the French Culinary Institute for pastry. After I graduated, I met Noah [Bernamoff] through a friend; the friend lived right above Mile End, and he was like, "Hey, there’s this awesome delicatessen that’s opening up right downstairs." Mile End wasn’t even open yet; there was still paper in the windows. So I stopped in and introduced myself to Noah. I really liked his vibe. That was how I eventually started working as a line cook there. At the time, Mile End wasn’t yet Mile End.
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About a year later Noah said he wanted us to start doing our own breads. Myself and this other gentleman were just like, "We’ll do it." So it all started with Mile End.