Ali White and Chris Cunningham are baking up New York City-style bagels at their new Austin shop, Nervous Charlie’s.
By Danielle Ortiz, Photos by Courtney Pierce
When East Coast natives Ali White and Chris Cunningham tried to continue their weekend routine of getting fresh bagels after moving to Austin from New York City, they were shocked how difficult it was to find a bagel that tasted like home. This fall, almost three years later, White and Cunningham opened Nervous Charlie’s to offer Austinites bagels straight from the Big Apple.
Nervous Charlie’s bakes up fresh bagels daily with dough shipped in from New York City to keep it authentic. Flavors range from the classics to more unusual creations, such as sundried tomato and French toast. The cream cheese also comes in a variety of flavors, including vegan options.
The couple’s dog, Charlie, who they say is always nervous, serves as the inspiration behind the brand. White and Cunningham would always ask Charlie if she was nervous, and one day, the light bulb went off in their heads. They had found their business’ name.
Whether it’s the allure of an authentic New York-style bagel or the variety of flavors available at Nervous Charlie’s, people are already lining up to try the crispy, chewy delicacy for themselves. The shop opens at 7 a.m. and stays open until 3 p.m. every day. On opening day, White and Cunningham were blown away by the response.
“I was thinking we’d sell around 300 [or]400 bagels, which is a normal day at a typical bagel shop, but we sold out at 9:40 a.m.,” Cunningham says. “We couldn’t believe that people were willing to wait 40 minutes in line for an everything bagel.”
Cunningham and White say they’re now receiving daily bagel-dough deliveries instead of the weekly shipments they anticipated they’d need. They’re now making about 1,000 bagels every day and selling out most days.
“I don’t think bagel shops have to manage this level of volume, so it’s uncharted territory. We have to redefine how we bake,” Cunningham says.
The bagel-making process is a precise art, which can make it difficult to meet the growing demand. Dough has a short shelf life, so Cunningham comes in at 4 a.m. to bake the bagels for the day.
“You can’t have bagels the night before and have them be good,” he says. “There’s a very small window on how you bake them. You can’t increase production or get here earlier.”
Even though Nervous Charlie’s opened successfully, White and Cunningham admit it was initially difficult to convince others of their bagel-shop dream.
“No one told us how to start a restaurant, so we just went for it,” Cunningham says. “Every single step, we’ve had to work hard at it.”
White qualified for funding from the Tory Burch Foundation, which helps launch female entrepreneurs. The funding helped the couple bring Nervous Charlie’s to life.
“We didn’t want outside investors telling us what we could and couldn’t do,” White says. “We wanted to make it our own. We wanted to make it unique.”
White and Cunningham hope to incorporate Nervous Charlie’s into the Austin community, with plans for open-mic nights, pet-adoption events in their shop and potential collaborations with other local businesses.
Nervous Charlie’s is truly a labor of love for White and Cunningham. White still works a full-time job and Cunningham hasn’t taken a paycheck, but it’s all worth it to them when they see the joy on their customers’ faces.
“I’ll get stressed and then I’ll look at the positive Instagram posts from people who stopped by or kids getting pumped about our bagels. That’s why we do it,” Cunningham says. “We are doing this to create memories for people, and that means the world to us.”