Kind Cafe: New York-Style Bagels in Fairhope

There are a variety of bagels on Kind Cafe Fairhope’s menu, but Alex Pikul and Megan Harden know the best thing about the round dough is the kindness that’s served with it.

Alex Pikul and Megan Harden // Photos by Elizabeth Gelineau

She pushes her glasses up the bridge of her nose and plunders the fridge for almond milk. Megan Harden has been here since 5:30 this morning, serving caffeinated beverages and New York-style bagels, but her grin belies fatigue. The dark-haired, late 20-something chats easily with Angel, a familiar face around this place. 

“I’ll be back tomorrow,” the regular announces with a wink. 

“We will see you tomorrow,” Alex Pikul echoes. He’s been here since 2:30 a.m., baking today’s inventory. Getting to know the customers, he says, is one thing he likes about owning a cafe. “I don’t know if you noticed, but we try to talk to all the customers and form a relationship with them. Angel and her husband, Mike, came to our soft opening, and they’ve been coming ever since. I know about their family, and I know that Mike likes to ride around Fairhope in his golf cart.” 

Megan laughs knowingly and joins Alex on the banquette. They’re cousins in case you’re wondering. And they’re business partners, cofounders of Kind Cafe Fairhope, opened in November 2021, right off Section Street, behind Section Street Pizza.

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But the duo, she from Foley, he the Marlow side of Fish River, didn’t always aspire to own an eatery. 

“I thought I was pretty funny, at one point,” Alex says, “so I considered being a stand-up comedian.” He shakes his head. “But in high school I became more realistic.” The self-described analytical 30-year-old attended Auburn, first studying aerospace engineering, then turning toward business and finance. After college, he found his groove as a corporate software salesman. 

“I was living in Dallas at the time,” Alex continues. “The year 2020 was tough for everyone, but people started becoming robotic. I began to really look at what I was doing with my life. Sales had always been good to me, from a paycheck perspective, but it left me wondering, ‘What else is there? Am I doing good for the world?’ As I was contemplating, something stood out in my mind: My name. My mom gave me the name ‘Alexander,’ and it means ‘helper of man.’” 

That realization coupled with the altruistic tug he was feeling led him to pick up the phone and call Megan, who was teaching high school in Fort Walton Beach at the time. Little did Alex know, she was also yearning for something more.

“I was a teacher,” the University of South Alabama alumna says, “so in that respect, I was headed in the right direction. My mom’s a preschool teacher, so I grew up in a day care. In that environment, you see a lot of kids from foster care or sad home situations. I would say that upbringing shaped my desire to help others. I feel that opening this has brought me back to my core.” 

What this is, is a warm, inclusive, community-driven coffee and bagel shop, served with a generous schmear of kindness. And a smile. The two are back at it behind the counter, tending to the next wave of customers. 

“I still have the napkin from September 2020 where we were considering names for the place,” Alex says, sipping water from a can. One option was “Lost Boys Cafe,” a nod to children in foster care. “We were thinking about providing kids in the system a place to work. But ultimately, we landed on ‘Kind Cafe.’ We are inspiring kindness throughout the community, and the name is very simple and straight to the point.” 

Megan passes an iced caramel coffee across the counter, and Alex slips a sleeve on the cup. Printed across the bright blue wrapper are the words “Compliment a Stranger.” 

“Maybe it doesn’t make a difference,” Alex says of the coffee sleeves, “but they’re small reminders that you can interact with someone in a different way. Kindness is a chain reaction; it’s the only thing that doubles every time you give it.”

The cafe also includes a leave-one-take-one compliments box, as well as a table set up for local nonprofit sales, another way the couple is giving back to the community. Megan is an avid volunteer with Exceptional Foundation Gulf Coast, and both she and Alex encourage employees to get involved with whatever organization inspires them. 

But for now, bagels are top of mind for Megan as she hands one, topped with cream cheese, seasoned avocado and tomato slices, to a hungry patron. “It changes day-to-day,” she says, when asked her favorite. “Lately, I’m loving the honey wheat paired with the sun-dried tomato spread. I don’t even toast it. I just eat it like a barbarian.” She laughs, but it’s understandable, as all the bagels, spreads and bagel sandwiches sound amazing. 

But why base their business on the chewy, crisped-skinned roll traditionally eaten forenoon?

Alex explains, “The most important meal is breakfast. So, if you’re going to potentially change the trajectory of somebody’s day, the time to do it is the morning.”

New York-Style Plain Bagels

4 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar 
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water, divided
3 1/2 cups bread flour or high gluten flour 
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 tablespoons barley malt syrup, molasses or honey

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine sugar and yeast with 1/2 cup warm water. Let sit for 5 minutes and then stir.

2. Add remaining 3/4 cup water, flour and salt to the bowl. Mix on low with a dough hook for 8 minutes, then high for 6 minutes. 

3. Remove the dough and place on a floured surface. Knead the dough by hand for 5 minutes.

4. Lightly grease a large bowl with nonstick spray. Place dough in bowl and cover lightly with clean kitchen towel. Allow dough to rise for 90 minutes or until doubled in size.

5. Punch the dough to remove excess air and let rest for 10 minutes. 

6. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces, shaping each into a ball. Gently flatten dough while stretching it to form 8 round shapes. Coat a finger in flour and gently press through the middle of the circle, stretching the hole to about 1/3 the diameter of the bagel. Repeat for each bagel, placing each onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover with a towel and let rest for 10 minutes.

7. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and add barley malt syrup to the water. Using a slotted spoon or skimmer, lower each bagel, one or two at a time, into the boiling water. Boil one minute, then flip bagel and boil one minute more. Transfer bagels to an oiled baking sheet.

8. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool on wire rack. Makes 8

Cinnamon Raisin Bagels

4 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar 
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water, divided 
3 1/2 cups bread flour or high gluten flour 
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar 
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
3/4 cup raisins
1/2 tablespoons barley malt syrup, molasses or honey

1. Follow steps one and two of the New York-Style Bagel recipe, as seen at left, adding brown sugar, vanilla and cinnamon to the mixer with the flour and flour. Add raisins during the last 2 minutes of mixing to prevent them from breaking apart in the dough. 

2. Continue with steps 3 through 8 of the New York-Style Plain Bagel Recipe. Makes 8

Cream Cheese Spreads

16-ounce cream cheese package
Mixings (listed below)

1. Add cream cheese package to a bowl of hot water. Allow it to sit for 30 minutes.

2. Place softened cream cheese into mixer, mixing with the whisk attachment first on slow speed then moving to medium speed. Mix for 2 minutes, or until fluffy.

3. Add desired ingredients, below, to the fluffed cream cheese, and mix for 3 minutes more, or until well combined.

1/4 cup scallions, green ends only, finely sliced 

Sun-dried Tomato 
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped

Honey Cinnamon 
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/3 cup honey

Vermont Maple 
1/2 cup dark brown Vermont maple syrup

Mixed Berry 
1/3 package blackberries, roughly chopped
1/4 cup blueberries, roughly chopped
1/2 cup strawberries, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
pinch of salt

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