Kismet Bagels Is Penn Valley’s Hottest New Luncheonette

Kismet Bagels Luncheonette opened in Penn Valley on Valentine's Day, and Main Liners are showing it the love it deserves.

Most people don’t accidentally find their passion. Instead, they spend decades, if not a lifetime, refining their technique and honing their skills. Supposedly, it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at any craft. Alexandra and Jacob Cohen became Philadelphia’s top bagel makers in an afternoon.

With no professional cooking experience pre-pandemic, the couple emerged from society’s collective hibernation with an unbridled enthusiasm and a burning desire to persevere in an industry built for failure. Against all the odds, they succeeded.

As of February 2024, the Cohens opened their fourth brick-and-mortar location on Montgomery Avenue in Penn Valley. Kismet Bagels Luncheonette is a vintage lunch counter with limited seating but unchecked enthusiasm from the local community. From 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., Jacob and Alexandra can be found hustling to complete a bevy of orders and satisfy a cluster of hungry diners during the lunch rush as well as keep their toddler, Jude, entertained.

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Jude Cohen points at a picture of donuts hanging on the wall.
Jude Cohen points at a picture of bagels hanging on the wall.

Four years ago, before either had ever imagined that making bagels and running a business full-time would be their profession, none of this seemed remotely possible.

Both Cohens had been laid off from their jobs at the start of the pandemic. Alexandra had been in advertising and sales while Jacob had been in real estate, and neither industry could retain their salaries any further.

“So we both basically had nothing to do, and we just cooked all day,” Alexandra recalls.

First they focused on a no-knead bread recipe that Jacob began perfecting. Then, one Sunday morning, Alexandra wanted bagels. Appropriately cautious of ordering in or grabbing takeout, the Cohens looked up bagel-making tips, measured out ingredients, put it all together and then boiled and baked the bagels. The smell was intoxicating.

“And they came out and they were just the most perfect thing. Fluffy on the inside, crispy on the outside. It was this insanely perfect moment,” Alexandra remembers.

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It was a beam of light into their lives during that darkest time in the pandemic. The Cohens knew they had to share their creations somehow. Alexandra wanted to donate the bagels to healthcare workers initially, but soon a better idea arose.

They sold the bagels to hungry neighbors and donated the proceeds to the healthcare workers and Project Home instead. So successful was their recipe that people soon lined up down the block while Jacob and Alexandra raced to complete 30 orders at once in a tiny kitchen.

By May, the Cohens were offered a chance to use the kitchen at Urban Village Brewing for a pop-up. Barely 45 days after they started making bagels, the couple had already found themselves masters of the commercial aspect, too.

The pop-ups started coming more frequently, and bigger businesses began taking notice. gopuff and Di Bruno Bros. were two of the first to come calling. Both corporations wanted to sell the Cohens’ bagels at their stores. Soon, 50 different outlets across the Philadelphia area carried what were to become Kismet Bagels.

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In April 2022, two years after making their first bagels, the Cohens opened their first brick-and-mortar location in Fishtown. Though it’s unfair to call it a glorified takeout counter, it was nothing compared to what would come next.

Kismet Bagels Rittenhouse Square and Kismet Bagels Reading Terminal followed. And finally, on Valentine’s Day 2024, Kismet Bagels Luncheonette opened its door to Penn Valley.

Kismet Bagels Luncheonette on Mongomery Ave in Penn Valley.
Kismet Bagels Luncheonette on Montgomery Ave in Penn Valley.

The Cohens’ latest eatery is their first with proper seating and an expanded menu as well as homemade ice cream and donuts to complement their famous bagels. Given the tremendous demand they’ve experienced so shortly after opening, they plan to extend their hours within the coming weeks and months.

Residing in the building that once housed Ginza Sushi, Kismet Luncheonette is perhaps more special to Jacob and Alexandra than anything they could have imagined at the other Kismet locations.

When she was a child, Alexandra peered out of the same window she does now from behind the counter. Two decades ago she sat with her grandmother, and now she sits next to her child and husband.

Jacob and Alexandra grew up in Bala Cynwyd and played together as children. In fact, their grandmothers have been friends for over 60 years. Though Jacob and Alexandra grew apart through high school and college, they reunited as adults and today live in the area where they were raised. On the date of their grand opening, long-forgotten acquaintances periodically walked into the shop and reminisced on memories from what seemed like a lifetime ago.

“I had five different teachers of mine come in today. And I was crying. It was just so emotional to be in your backyard and see all these faces that shaped your life. I ran into someone today who was my third grade best friend’s dad. I hadn’t seen him since I was 10 years old…I’m back home in a real way,” Jacob says, deeply moved.

Besides bagels, donuts, patty melts and ice cream, the Cohens are selling something entirely different at Kismet Bagels: heart.

It’s immediately apparent upon walking through the front door and meeting the two masterminds behind the counter. They gave up everything they had to make this work. 

“I was 33 with a baby coming and I agreed for us to sell our house and move into [Alexandra’s] parents house in her childhood bedroom,” Jacob notes. “I think there are a lot of people out there who see a business that’s incredibly successful and think that they must be doing pretty well and driving around in fancy cars, but that’s really not the case. It’s incredibly difficult and very trying and emotionally draining. And you have to have a certain mindset in order to accomplish that. But it’s something that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I would sleep in a van if I had to until this business got to where it was supposed to be.”

That drive to get Kismet Bagels to the place where it is today isn’t present in most businesses. There are very few entrepreneurs who are as truly in love with what they do as Jacob and Alexandra Cohen. That feeling emanates through their souls and into the recipes.

Kismet Bagels isn’t just special because it serves good food, it’s special because places like it rarely exist anymore. It’s part of a hard-to-find breed: mom-and-pop shops with a deep-seated dedication to a craft.

Despite Jacob and Alexandra’s humble beginning just four years ago during the pandemic, they have put in the work to become experts. When you’re struck by kismet, the only option is to follow the path laid before you and, for Jacob and Alexandra, that’s Kismet.

Related: A Bala Cynwyd-Based Chef Runs Philadelphia’s Most Exclusive Omakase

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