Bagel fiends across Portland suffered a big blow in 2011. Kettleman Bagel Company, a beloved brand that had been boiling bagels since 2006, was bought by Einstein Noah Restaurant Group, the parent company to chains Einstein Bros. and Noah's New York Bagels.
The collective despair was aired on Reddit feeds and Facebook polls. But there was one group of middle schoolers that was particularly put out. For years, the Portland Jewish Academy had been receiving kosher challah from Kettleman. One of the only kosher bakeries in town, its dissolution left a void.
Fortunately for the PJA Dragons, their newfound need coincided with the growing hobby of a welcomed superhero.
Enter the Challahman.
In spring 2012, the aspiring baker then known as Rich Meyer went on a trip to Israel and was struck by the sight of stall-high piles of challah spilling into the streets of the Shuk Mahane Yehuda, one of Jerusalem's largest markets. Inspired by the towers of braided dough, he started baking more challah when he returned home to Portland. It was around this time he learned that PJA was still looking for a kosher challah purveyor. So he rented out a kitchen at a local synagogue and increased production.
"I had a few people who helped me go from baking two loaves at a time to baking many loaves at a time," Meyer says, "and that's when the Challahman was born."
Meyer's challah was a hit at the school, and he started receiving and filling more special requests for home-delivered bread. Two years in, he began working with a local bakery to produce loaves that stocked the shelves of Fred Meyer, Green Zebra, Albertsons, and others He even became the trusted supplier for many local brunch joints, though he won't divulge exactly where.
Meyer's challah is classic. Each loaf has plump braids and a crust with a brown sheen so uniform it could be the subject of a stock photo shoot. Meyer uses the standard ingredients: oil, flour, egg, yeast, sugar, salt. When you rip into the challah, you'll see an inner crumb whiter than some eggier versions and the sought-after shards of pulled dough.
Along with his addition of vanilla, however, Meyer's challah has what most commercially produced challah in Portland do not: a rabbi who oversees the baking and ensures that each loaf is kosher.
"It's important to me that I have a kosher product," Meyer says. "Not everyone wants or needs challah to be kosher, but a lot of people do."
But not even Challahman has proven immune to the pandemic. The kosher facility where Meyer's loaves rise cut its hours, forcing Meyer to scale back production and pull his challah from grocery store shelves. Once again, Portlanders who value quality kosher glutenous goods spoke up. And so, in spring 2020, Meyer returned to his roots, delivering loaves to schools, synagogues and homes.
Now, you can have the Challahman himself deliver challah to your doorstep every week. Ordering loaves online on Tuesday guarantees both Friday delivery and the donation of a loaf of challah to the Holocaust survivors program of the Jewish Family & Child Service.
Meyer doesn't know how the Challahman will morph again postpandemic. He does, however, have a dream. He hopes to one day trade in his black minivan for a decked-out delivery truck—decals of his logo on the side, blasting klezmer music through the streets of Portland, and tossing loaves to passersby.
"People are spread out all over the place," he says. "I like looking for creative ways to keep community cohesive in difficult times."
ORDER: See challahman.com.