Tucked inside a strip mall behind McDonald’s in Lake Hopatcong lies a small business for people with big appetites. Owner Mia Morella and her partner, Ed Cassidy, opened Donagels Donuts and Bagels in December of 2017, garnering a steady following of loyal customers ever since. The Jefferson Chronicle explores the ever-increasing popularity of this local sweet spot.
Upon entering Donagels, customers are drawn to the eye candy they call donuts. The artistry is pronounced, with a variety of colorful displays. These are not the same old donuts of yore, although standards such as Boston cream and chocolate with sprinkles are still available. Morella’s creations reveal her focus on detail; her creative concoctions demand attention and delight the taste buds. Some flavor combinations raise an eyebrow or two, but customers with an adventurous spirit appreciate the uniqueness. Maple bacon is a favorite for men. Women enjoy lemon raspberry coconut, while kids prefer the fruity pebbles or vanilla with sprinkles.
When asked what inspires these delectable donuts, Morella told The Chronicle, “It could be anything. I might be in the grocery store and see an ingredient that would be make a great topping. It could be something I see on Pinterest.” Morella credits her cooking desire and creativity to her parents. “It is all I know. My parents owned the Valley Roost Tavern in Oak Ridge for 20 years, so I was around it daily.”
Although Donagels sells donuts throughout the week, the shop often sells out early on weekends. Donuts are made throughout the day in small batches to ensure freshness. Morella emphasizes, “If you don’t see the one you like on the shelf, we will make it up fresh for you.”
Mini-donuts and “donut cakes” are available for catering. Donagels even offers do-it-yourself donut-making for children’s parties (and adults often get in on the fun, too).
True Jersey Bagels
Cassidy is the mastermind behind the Donagels bagels. They are slightly crusty on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. He states that the secret is old-fashioned hand-rolling and boiling. “Many shops use machines to create bagels now. Hand-rolling and boiling require more manual work, but machines can’t produce the same quality.” Although the fan favorite is the French toast bagel, recently the Falcon blue and yellow was a sellout. Jalapeño and cheddar or spinach and Swiss bagels are also popular, but traditional plain and onion are staples as well.
Each evening, Cassidy hand-rolls the bagels – an art form in itself. He has been rolling for about six years after training with another shop (Hot Bagels Abroad in Hackettstown, owned by Mia’s brother, Patrick). The dough is stretched, pulled, and wrapped around in a circle in a process that is repetitive yet also relaxing and cathartic. Once the bagels are rolled, they are put on large shelves in the walk-in refrigerator, a process called “proofing” or “proving.” Cassidy states that the proofing time is another secret to a successful bagel, and that “the perfect time is about two days.” After proofing, toppings such as onion, salt, or cinnamon are added just before baking. The bagels are baked fresh each morning to ensure that every customer receives the ultimate bagel experience.
Beyond Bagels and Donuts
In addition to donuts and bagels, Donagels offers full breakfast and lunch menus including items such as chocolate chip pancakes, breakfast wraps, muffins, and croissants. Huge salads and sandwiches are available to satisfy any “hangry” man. Morella professes, “I can do anything! Just ask.”
Probably the most important ingredient that Donagels provides is true dedication to ensuring that the customer has a wonderful experience. The attentive service provided by friendly staff is refreshing. Morella, in particular, does not seem to sit still. She is always cooking, cleaning, or waiting on a customer, and never fails to have a smile on her face. She considers it extremely important to please her customers and takes any criticism very seriously.
Morella and Cassidy previously owned a small diner in Toms River, but the location was not ideal. Jefferson residents have wondered why the current Donagels location was chosen, given the fact that two prior bagel shops failed at the same spot. Morella states, “My brother actually owned Abby’s Bagels, the prior tenant. It could have worked there, but he was plagued by poor staff. I looked at locations in other towns, but it felt right to be back in Jefferson.” Morella grew up in Oak Ridge and believes it is important to support local businesses, schools, first responders, and their events. Donagels is a big supporter of local sports teams and charities.
How do you pronounce Donagels? It has been heard around town as “Don a gils” (like the town in Ireland) or “Don a jells.” The correct pronunciation is “Dōn āgels” – a combination of the words donuts and bagels. Morella says, “I don’t care what you call us; just come check us out!” Donagels is located at 757 Route 15 South in Lake Hopatcong.