Rick Spielman, co-founder of popular Portland bagel chain Spielman Bagels & Coffee, has died at the age of 76. He passed away in his sleep following complications from Parkinson’s disease on July 5, according to his son Raf Spielman. He was known for his community mindedness, curious personality, and love of foreign films. Spielman is survived by his sons Raf and Kenji Spielman.
Spielman Bagels came into existence somewhat accidentally. Rick Spielman founded his eponymous business with Raf Spielman as a small cafe where they would roast shade-grown coffee in house. In 2011, the duo opened on Southeast Division Street, where Scottie’s Pizza Parlor now resides. Although they were initially made in batches of no more than a dozen daily, their “Portland style” bagel, which is made from a sourdough starter and kettle-boiled, soon stole the show and became the focus of the company.
“It seems so different now than the way that Portland businesses start,” Raf Spielman says. “There was no strategy, no plan, no rollout. It just happened.”
A former political science professor, Rick Spielman moved his family to Portland from Oakland in 1988 to teach at Lewis and Clark College, later also teaching at Willamette University. He was an avid birder, which sparked his initial interest in the environmental impact of coffee. This curiosity led to a full-time business — in the early 1990s, he ran the Tigard location of Java Man, but later broke off from the franchise, changing the name to Java Mama.
Despite the career transition, Rick Spielman’s propensity for the pursuit of knowledge was lifelong. “One of the things I’ve been hearing from people recently is how much they remembered his enthusiasm,” his son says. “He would become interested with a subject and then just fully immerse himself in learning all about it. When he saw you, he couldn’t wait to tell you about it.”
Spielman Coffee & Bagels currently operates four Portland locations and wholesales to over 50 vendors in Portland and Salem. Rick Spielman sold the majority share of the business in the mid-2010s, but continued in its day-to-day operations until four or five years ago, running the Division Street location which Raf Spielman now oversees.
“A lot of [my father’s] values had to do with treating people with respect — just being good to people, and valuing them,” says Raf Spielman. “More than the bagels, or the coffee, or it existing as a business, I think that [the bagel shop] was a place where he could meet people. His good nature and belief in human nature was something that he was able to express through the bagel shop.”