From Pop-Up to Brick-and-Mortar, West Philly Welcomes Cleo Bagels

Alex Malamy's pop-up Dodo Bagels is now Cleo Bagels. And yes, he's bringing back the Ramen Thing.

A variety of bagels from West Philly’s new Cleo Bagels / Photograph courtesy of Cleo Bagels

It’s possible you’re more familiar with Alex Malamy’s bagels under their original name, Dodo Bagels, a roving pop-up that gained traction as Philadelphia fell in love with Malamy’s surprising versions of bagel sandwiches, incorporating ingredients like lavender and togarashi. Bagel lovers will be pleased to know that Malamy has just opened a brick-and-mortar shop under his new name, Cleo Bagels, at 5013 Baltimore Avenue in West Philly.

Malamy originally started making bagels in 2016, in response to the dearth of good options. He began doing it at home, eventually connecting with a local pizzeria that let him use their mixer when they were closed.

“I was carting my dough in like a collapsible babushka cart to the pizzeria a mile away and mixing it in their 60-quart mixer and then carting it home,” he said. “And then on a Saturday, waking up rolling out of bed and making like 10 dozen bagels, one dozen at a time in my tiny home oven.”

At that time, people would preorder and pick up their bagels — which he says he was able to coax them into doing by offering free coffee. The interest in a brick-and-mortar location came not from Malamy’s childhood in New York, but from a trip to France he took with his partner in 2018. He remembers visiting local boulangeries, admiring the way these businesses were woven into the daily lives of the neighbors, and noticing the unpretentious way that they used local and seasonal ingredients.

“Most of these bakeries had some type of pizza, almost like a flatbread,” he remembers. “And it was just a vehicle for what is good, like the cheese of their region, maybe some seasonal produce or something that had been preserved already. They weren’t putting it on a platform; it was just something you’d want to eat cold as you walk out of the bakery.”

That inspiration is present in the menu at Cleo Bagels, where Malamy and his team will start out with six types of bagels, plus bialys. They’ll have two types of smoked-fish sandwiches, two vegan sandwiches and two egg sandwiches. The Ramen Thing, a ramen-inspired bagel sandwich that was popular at Malamy’s pop-ups, will also be on the menu.

“The Ramen Thing is so far my most popular sandwich, and one of the more unexpected things I think we’ll do at the shop,” Malamy said. The Ramen Thing has a marinated egg inspired by a ramen egg, braised bamboo shoots, ginger, togarashi mayonnaise, fresh scallions, toasted sesame and a seaweed crisp. Despite that unexpected menu option, Malamy describes his bagels fundamentally as classic.

“I’m making what I think is a near equivalency to the types of bagels I grew up eating,” Malamy said. “But also acknowledging that as an adult, my tastes have changed. At the end of the day, I really want my bagels to be good bread.”