Experiment Week: Variations on a Bagel (aka, Debunkin’ Dunkin’)

This post is an audio piece. The transcript can be found below.

Author’s note: This producer is from the Midwest and therefore will continue to pronounce bagel as “bay-gel.”


Narration: There are over 10,000 Dunkin Donuts stores in the world.  Known for their coffee and baked goods, the store serves over 5 million customers every day.  And I’m one of them.

But when I stopped by a local Dunkin in New York City, I wasn’t going for a coffee or a chocolate sprinkled donut.  I wanted a bagel.

The New York bagel is a famous piece of history. Locals will swear by its superior qualities to the mangles of dough offered by other U.S. cities.  So I thought, for The Raptor Lab’s experiment week, I’d find out how a worldwide baked goods chain like Dunkin, founded in Massachusetts, competes in a bagel-crazy city like New York.

Do they change bagel preparation for the city? Preservation? Consistency?

I thought I’d try a taste test.


Sound: “What are the defining qualities of a good New York bagel?”

Narration: To do my background research on the quintessential New York bagel, I turned to my local Long Islander, Nerve + Wire.  According to her…

Nerve + Wire: “A lot of what makes a New York bagel different from another kind of bagel is the consistency.  Like a shoddy bagel is gonna be very soft.  I think a good New York bagel kind of has like a crisper exterior?  It’s a certain kind of flavor.  It’s almost like a sweet taste I wanna say.  So it’s the interior, the exterior, and the taste.”

Narration: We later added general appearance, or, does the bagel look good.  So there are four bagel characteristics.  Time to acquire the goods.

Sound: “Hi, can I get three bagels?  A plain, a sesame, and an everything?”

Narration: I originally bought three bagels in New York.  I wanted to get the most boring bagel, the most intense one, and something in between.  I decided to contrast that with three bagels in Massachusetts, home of Dunkin.  But soon into the experiment, I ran into some reproducibility problems.

Sound: “I don’t think we have everything bagels.”  “Oh, no everything?”

Narration: Yikes.  Down to two bagel types – plain, and sesame.  To ensure some experimental integrity, I enlisted a friend…

Sound: “Can you take a bite before I take my bite?”

Narration: … to serve me the four bagels, one at a time, while I taste tested them and guessed which state they were from.  To do so, I drew a table listing the four bagel characteristics (inside, outside, flavor, and look), and ranked them on a scale from 1 to 5.  1 was weak, 5 was strong.

I assumed the New York bagel, the better bagel, would have more 5s than the Massachusetts variety.

Here’s how it went down.


Sound: “I’m giving outside texture… very firm.  Inside quality is chewy.  Giving it a four.  Bagel number two.  Here we go, bagel number three.  But my guess is that it’s a Boston bagel.  I guess I’ll guess Boston again. I’m guessing New York.  Alright, let’s guess New York.


The results were honestly, not what I was expecting.

Sound: “Bagel number one… check, guess was correct.  Bagel number two… another check, guess is correct.  Bagels three and four, also correct.” “Oh my god!”

Narration:  Alright, so maybe the New York bagel is better than the Massachusetts bagel.  Or it could be just an anomaly.  Or maybe, I just got lucky.  So I called up the source, Dunkin Donuts to find out.

Sound: “Thank you for calling Dunkin Brands Inc. Customer Relations!”

“Good morning, Nancy speaking, how can I help you?”

“I was wondering if like Dunkin Donuts bagels vary from location to location like if recipes or things like that change from state to state?”

“Um so our stores are actually independently owned and operated.  Sometimes the stores have a kitchen on site and they’ll bake in the store.  Sometimes they get them distributed fresh every morning from a distribution center in the local area. As far as recipe, they should be across the board all the same. If you go online there’s actually a national DCP…”

Narration: DCP, that’s Distribution, Commitment, Partnership – Dunkin’s distribution company that serves over fifty-two hundred locations per year.

Sound: “If you type that into Google you might be able to find more information that route.”

Narration: So I made another call.  But unfortunately, they couldn’t provide any answers.

Sound: “We actually aren’t able to speak on the recipes or anything, you have to touch base with one of the OMs.”

Narration: OM – that’s an Operations Manager, located at each individual store.  So I called up the Dunkin where I bought the New York bagels.

Sound: “Hi, can I speak to the operations manager?”

“Manager speaking.”

“Where do you get your bagels from?”

“From Lodi Kitchen.”

“Oh, okay.”

“From New Jersey.”

“Okay, you get them from New Jersey.”


Narration: That’s right.  As it turns out, they weren’t New York bagels at all.  I was just lucky.

Much like many better scientific experiments: more research is needed.  Maybe tomorrow.  For breakfast.

This piece was produced by Alison Bruzek for The Raptor Lab.  Read more at http://www.theraptorlab.com.

Credits: Music by OldDog and CDK from CC.Mixter.  Hear more audio pieces by Alison at SoundCloud.

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