Meet the Chef: Les Kleinman

A conversation with Brooklyn Bagel owner Les Kleinman about bringing the New York bagel to Columbia Falls and keeping family traditions alive

By Denali Sagner
Bagels from Brooklyn Bagel and Bakery in Columbia Falls. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

On a white tile wall of Brooklyn Bagel in Columbia Falls, hung above a table of napkins and utensils, are four black-and-white photos of New York City in a bygone era. A smiling older woman prepares food behind a counter. A young mother holds a baby in front of a storefront exterior donned with a neon sign that reads “Weissberg’s Improved Egg Cream.” A young couple poses on the city street outside of the restaurant. 

The photos, Les Kleinman points out as he gives a tour of Brooklyn Bagel, are of his family’s own restaurant back in Manhattan, and the people are his own family members, a homage to the “generational experience the people of New York have,” one that he hopes to translate to the Flathead Valley. 

Kleinman opened Brooklyn Bagel in Columbia Falls in January 2023, where he now imports bagels and other specialty New York dishes, including Italian butter cookies, cheesecake, cannolis, knishes and smoked salmon. In partnership with Ess-a-Bagel, one of the most famous bagel makers in New York, Kleinman has perfected the art of shipping bagels straight from Manhattan to Columbia Falls, tweaking the transportation, storage and baking process to get the taste and texture as authentic as possible. Kleinman also imports products from Ferrara Bakery and Café, an Italian espresso bar, bakery and restaurant that has served Little Italy, Manhattan since 1892. 

A resident of Columbia Falls for nearly a decade now, Brooklyn Bagel is the latest of Kleinman’s various local business ventures, including Firehouse Subs in Kalispell, Total Garage Solutions, and the first Brooklyn Bagel location, down in Missoula. 

Kleinman sat down with Flathead Living to discuss his vision for Brooklyn Bagel and the art of bringing authentic New York foods to the Flathead Valley. The following is an edited excerpt from that conversation.

Les Kleinman, owner of Brooklyn Bagel and Bakery in Columbia Falls. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon
Window signage for Brooklyn Bagel and Bakery in Columbia Falls. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

On how he ships fresh bagels to the Flathead Valley…

LK: We worked out a process where these bagels you get here are the identical bagels you’re going to get walking around midtown Manhattan. They hand roll and boil the bagels in New York, and then they form them in the oven for two minutes, and then send them to me frozen in plastic, so it keeps the moisture in the bagel. Then, we bake them off here and we keep them in these bins. You can see that the moisture is still in there. Everybody’s like, ‘Well, why do you have these funky little bins?’ Well, there’s a reason. It’s to keep the moisture in the bagel as long as possible.

On how he chose which products to import from New York…

LK: [Ess-a-Bagel is] the best bagel maker in the country. I wanted the best of the best. Ferrara, I actually know the people who own it because I used to hang out there when I was downtown. So, it was a no-brainer that I was going with them. They’re world famous, so that was easy to do. Our gelato comes from a guy out on Long Island who’s been doing it a hundred years. The coffee comes from Italy. Our pastas come from Italy through Ferrara. So, like I said, we wanted to make sure everything was 100% legit.

On his vision for Brooklyn Bagel…

LK: The whole key to it is the generational experience that the people of New York have. There’s two things going for people in New York that we want to make sure is brought out here: the expertise and the water. You can truck water in and try to do it yourself, but that’s insane, so I’d rather send the truck out once a month and pick up everything and come back out here. I wanted to do it right for everybody and give them a real taste of New York City, and that’s what you have here.

On how the bagel shop has been received in the Flathead Valley…

LK: Once people know this is the real deal, they come flying in. It’s so funny because the first week we opened, nobody knew what a cannoli was. Now the kids are flying in here, asking for cannolis like they’re from New York.

Bagels from Brooklyn Bagel and Bakery in Columbia Falls. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

On what’s next for Brooklyn Bagel…

LK: Eventually, we might have to change and call ourselves New York Specialty Foods, because I plan on bringing in sausages from Little Italy, the next truck we’re bringing in individual dinners from Little Italy — manicotti, Bolognese sauce, stuffed meatballs. We’re going to continue to grow. It’s an evolving concept. If people keep responding to it, we’ll keep bringing it out. 

On if he’ll ever go back to New York…

LK: Oh no. No, no, no. I’ve been here eight years and I’m never leaving my home, knock on wood. I quit the New York job and I own businesses here in Montana. I just love it here.