When customers from the East Coast come into Oren Zweig’s bagel shop in downtown Ocean Springs, they often ask if he’s from New York or New Jersey. The answer is neither.
Zweig was born in Israel but was raised in South Florida, during a time when many New Yorkers had moved down South. Locals called the area where he grew up the “Sixth Borough,” Zweig said.
But Zweig grew up eating the round bread, and he waited for more than a decade to see if anyone on the Coast would open up a shop with homemade bagels. He moved to South Mississippi after Katrina.
“I waited 12 years for someone to do bagels on the Coast, and no one did it, so I opened it up,” Zweig said.
He opened Lil’ Market Deli and Bagelry on Bellande Avenue, just off Government Street, in January. The quaint space has patio seating and was formerly Lola Fleur meal service and catering.
Zweig sells breakfast and lunch sandwiches, bowls, homemade cream cheese shmears, and Boar’s Head meats and cheeses. He also sells Taylor pork roll, an East Coast delicacy that’s often served on a plain bagel with eggs and cheese.
Bagels are hand-rolled, boiled and baked, and are served individually with or without shmear. Zweig and his team make the bagels daily. The most popular flavors are, plan, cinnamon raisin, everything, asiago, and jalapeno cheddar.
“The hand-rolling forms the gluten and makes it chewy,” Zweig said. “Boiling it gives it that skin.”
Zweig didn’t have a ton of experience in bagels when he opened — he previously worked at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino then opened a sports bar and grill. He closed his bar after having a heart attack but missed being the food service industry. His little market, he said, is the perfect fit.
“Everyone loves the food,” Zweig said. His New York customers tell him, “This is as close as we can get to back home,” Zweig said.
Zweig said he’s developed regulars, including South Mississippians who aren’t used to an authentic, East Coast-style bagel.
“People here are used to fluffy, soft biscuits. Some people, they like it. Some people don’t. I used this to test the concept in the area to see if it works,” Zweig said.
Zweig developed his recipe from eating “10 times more bagels than any normal human.”
“Are they authentic New York? No, I think they’re better.”
Zweig said he has customers from as far as New Orleans who come for bagels and freeze them to eat later. He also sells homemade, family-sized meals. Lasagna is a crowd favorite.
There’s always an experiment going on the kitchen at the Lil’ Market, Zweig said. They made Reuben egg rolls to sell at the Peter Anderson Festival.
“The main thing I try to do is really good ingredients,” he said. “It’s not magic. It’s just good ingredients.”
Lil’ Market Deli and Bagelry is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on the weekends. The shop is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.