HOLE FOODS: “The Single Batch that Became Deke’s Bagels.”
By Gina King
Standing next to a baking mixer in the open space of his new business, Deke’s Bagels in Niantic, there is a sparkle in David Haylon’s blue eyes when he starts to talk about his latest food venture. “Your first failure is the next step to success,” he said, “if you don’t quit.” Haylon, who goes by “Deke,” has been reinventing himself his whole life and is quite good at it. He has closed a few doors in his lifetime, only to grab the handle of the next door and walk bravely through it to see what he may accomplish next. “We are going to make bagels,” he remembers saying to his assistant, Kristie Jones. “I have a feeling we can do this.”
He recalls childhood memories of his mother baking sweet rolls and solid American food in the kitchen of their summer home in Niantic. Out of a strong desire to bond with her, he would pull up a chair to the kitchen counter to watch and learn. “I loved being in the kitchen, it was nurturing and calming,” says Deke. When he later went away to The Culinary Institute of America in New York, he drew from his early cooking experiences and would call his mother and ask her for family recipes. Following culinary school, he moved to California and worked for his biggest influence, Nancy Silverton in her restaurant Capinale, which was classic Italian food with California flair. After working the line at the restaurant, Deke got his big break when a staff member did not show up for his shift, and he eagerly jumped in to substitute cook. This turned into his defining moment.
Later, when his dad became ill, he moved back to New York to take care of him and put his passion for cooking and being a people-pleaser into being a private chef for the likes of the late celebrities, Joan Rivers and Jackie Collins…and even the Trump family. Deke learned the art of making dinner an event, cooking with quality fresh ingredients and appealing to all types of food desires. After 35 years of taking care of other families’ nutrition and food needs, he decided there must be something more. When his father passed away, Deke decided he wanted a simpler life of his own to pursue a different dream, one that eventually brought him back to Niantic in 2014.
Having recently closed the doors of Haylon’s Market after two years – it wasn’t taking off financially the way he envisioned – he turned to baking, a talent he had been preparing for his whole life. His bagel making venture started when he made a batch of plain bagels for a friend, and she in turn shared them with her friends who flipped over them. After that, he found he couldn’t keep up with the demand; and Deke’s Bagels was born. He started to experiment with different flavorings, malt syrup vs. molasses, adding a sourdough starter, and the right crust texture. He soon found people coming from Stonington to Milford, and Deke’s was selling out of bagels every day. “It was really amazing,” said Deke. “I had a feeling we could do this. I can’t believe I didn’t think of this sooner.” With bagel flavors like French toast, jalapeno cheddar, asiago cheese, roasted garlic, and homemade cream cheeses like chipotle, sun-dried tomato, and scallion, Deke and his small staff have become bagel masters. He believes in quality ingredients such as using fresh veggies in the bagels and pureeing fruit for the cream cheeses. His experience cooking for families has served him well with his mindset of making homemade food and taking care of his customers. Proud of his family heritage, he displays a black and white poster hanging on the café wall as a remembrance of his great-grandfather who started an egg, butter, and cheese business called Kingsley and Smith back in the late 18th century with two stores in Hartford. As a tribute to his family’s entrepreneurial spirit, the logo for Deke’s Bagels is the actual truck that his great-grandfather used to sell his dairy. Deke’s Bagels also serves breakfast and lunch, sandwiches, soups, and delicious baked goods such as huge cinnamon buns and dirt bombs, which are muffin-shaped cinnamon sugar sweets. And his bagels have also found their way to Ashlawn Farm Coffee in Old Saybrook and Muddy Waters Café in New London.
What does the future hold for Deke’s Bagels? A desire and intention to bring the bagel business into a bigger space, preferably in New London where Deke would love to find a warehouse to start a bagel making operation with a wood burning oven, eventually distributing to smaller Deke’s Bagels storefronts. Now that he has firmly planted his roots in Niantic, he wants to give back to the community and work with the York Correctional Institute in East Lyme to start a program where prisoners have the opportunity to learn the bagel making business and entrepreneurship. A recovering drug addict himself, now nine years clean, Deke understands from his own experience that people make mistakes; and you can come back to find your purpose.
“I love creating something from where it never existed” says Deke. “And doing what I love.”
Deke’s Bagels,157 West Main Street, Niantic (860) 739-9509