Although Joan Kanner grew up under the veil of 12 years of Catholic school, she still lays a claim to her own “Jewy center,” as she put it.
The New Jersey-born Kanner, a Baltimorean since 2005, has chosen a particularly apt description here, considering she is the co-founder of the fresh-out-of-the-oven pop-up Bottoms Up Bagels.
It was a little more than a year ago that Kanner, along with wife and fellow Jersey-born transplant Michelle Bond, began operating Bottoms Up as a nomadic catering service throughout the Baltimore area. This includes pop-ups at such locations as the Waverly Holiday Market, Federal Hill’s Pixilated and Harbor Market.
The wife-and-wife team specializes in everything from fresh hand-rolled bagels to classic shmears (as well as their own signature creations such as house-cured lox cream cheese and house-smoked jalapeno cream cheese) to their “Kick Ass Salmon Lox” (as listed on their menu), cured in-house with salt, sugar, peppercorns, fresh parsley, dill and lemon zest.
Bottoms Up also has eight wholesale partners through such establishments as Mt. Vernon’s The Room, Catonsville’s Rooster + Hen Store and, only just this past week, Canton’s Fork and Wrench.
“We’re trying to get something in south Baltimore soon!” said Bond, who was followed to Baltimore by Kanner after time spent in the Peace Corps led to her accepting a Shriver Center fellowship at University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Bond received her master’s in intercultural communication, a field of study that has long interested her as a social activist and savvy entrepreneur.
“Our pop-up in the Lexington Market was very different than the pop-up we did in Mt. Vernon, for example, and communication helps,” Bond said in reference to starting up and running Bottoms Up with Kanner, whom she wed in 2014.
“I come at it from a community development aspect,” Bond continued, “and food has always been part of this exchange: coordinating and making it happen, working with the different cafes and business owners, setting things up that will not only be efficient but fun. It’s about making people feel part of the process.”
Bond went on to say that she sees the work she does schmoozing with the business owners and event planners at the various locations Bottoms Up has and continues to appear at as being “more than just a transaction. It’s influenced by all these other things that are a part of who we are.”
By this she means that Kanner and she are largely propelled by the sense of kinetic innovation that comes with operating a mobile catering business and the constant adventure unfolding each day in working with and setting up at different businesses.
Another part of who Kanner is goes back to that colorfully “Jewy center” of hers.
Though she may not have a master’s of her own in intercultural communication, Kanner does know a thing or two about what it means to be intimately connected to other cultures, particularly Jews.
Consider the backstory of her Catholic grandmother Rose and Jewish grandfather Jacob’s interfaith marriage.
“How do you say you’ve had exposure to this amazing group of people [Jews] throughout your life?” Kanner wondered aloud during her interview with the JT.
This exposure goes beyond Kanner’s fascination with Jewish cuisine, recounting as she did stories of her grandparents going to a kosher butcher to make their “phenomenal” flanken for their borscht, and then zipping right down the street to a different butcher for cold cuts that were full of “porky goodness.”
“And I haven’t made a latke in a while,” Kanner confessed, “but I make those too. With a little basil to ‘Italian them up’ for a bit of variety.”
No, Kanner’s link to her Jewy center is stronger than the mere fact that she happens to make kugel based on her grandparents’ recipe. There’s the history of her grandparents — shunned in Poland during the early ’40s for their interfaith marriage — fleeing through the forests of their homeland to meet up with an aunt in Germany “of all places,” as Kanner laughed, before “hightailing it to Canada” and ending up in the United States.
“I know they also got restitution checks from the German government,” Kanner said, adding that she has in the past heard from other Jewish people who made their way out and thanked her for what her grandparents did in assisting them.
Kanner will never be able to forget her grandfather’s disfigured ear, missing a small piece of his skull from when a Nazi soldier bashed him with the butt of his rifle before escaping.
“It didn’t look gross,” she said. “But there was this little indentation behind his right ear and I remember asking him about these kinds of physical things I saw or hearing stories about what went on.”
Kanner said that, for the most part, her grandparents — who were very involved in her upbringing — were mostly silent to the point of secrecy about the horrors they experienced and witnessed back in Poland and Germany during those tumultuous earlier days.
Though Kanner herself never learned the languages of her grandparents’ native land, she said they did sometimes speak Polish and Yiddish around her, “but they didn’t really want me to learn it.
“All I really knew is that I came from these beautiful people who had undergone these unspeakable things before they came to the U.S.,” Kanner said.
Aside from the practical notion that Bond and Kanner started Bottoms Up largely because they felt Baltimore lacked the kind of traditional style bagels they grew up with in New Jersey and, later before coming here, New York City, this deeper aspect of who they are as people greatly inspired and continues to inspire their growing enterprise.
“For us, it’s really about everything we’re talking about here: the cultural association and experience of our childhood,” Bond said.
“We were both raised in different parts of Jersey; [Kanner’s] had more of a Jewish influence and mine had more of an Italian influence … but there were always bagels everywhere.
“In that very simple, accessible food — whether you’re going to a business meeting or working at a construction site down the street — bagels can be there for everyone. And we want to be a part of that in Baltimore.”