The Inside Story Behind the Viral Rainbow Bagel and How It Started a Whole Unicorn Food Trend
Meg tells her story of working on the viral Rainbow Bagel project in 2016
Towards the middle of October 2015, I wrapped up my social media project working with the Archdiocese of New York and the Vatican for Pope Francis’ visit to the US. It was a successful project with great people. I knew I wanted to continue working on viral social media campaigns, but didn’t know what my future held in the space.
Shortly thereafter, I joined WeWork in Midtown independently and reconnected with an old friend from high school who was working on building a digital agency, and I would be involved in handling all things social media. We had a lot of current and prospective clients, but one day, he walked into WeWork with breakfast. It was something I had never seen before: a rainbow bagel with funfetti cake cream cheese.
To be honest, at first I thought it was play-dough and not edible, until he told me that it was from his friend’s bagel store in Brooklyn, ‘The Bagel Store.’ It was at that very moment I knew I needed to try an experiment. I was still buzzing from the viral content from the Papal Visit, that I craved another viral project, but had no idea what to do. I was 24 years old. All I knew was that I needed to meet the man making these bagels because I had never seen anything like it before.
The next morning, January 17, 2016, I found myself and my friend meeting Scot Rossillo at a random McDonalds on Long Island, NY in Massapequa at 7am — Scot’s favorite meeting spot. He is eccentric. Scot was running his own social media for The Bagel Store at the time, but I knew I wanted to jump on board to see if we could have some fun with it. I told him, “Scot, your bagels scream ‘Instagram.’ I need to get involved and help, what can we do?” His response was, “I just want the whole world to experience my passion for art through rainbow bagels. Tell me what we need to do.”
That morning, we exchanged logins. That same day, for fun, we sent a dozen rainbow bagels to Adriana Lima, FoodGod (Jonathan Cheban at the time), The Fat Jewish, and a few other rising instagram influencers in the local NYC area who could appreciate the art through bagels. That afternoon, both Adriana Lima & FoodGod had posted the bagel to their (chronological) static feeds. This was especially amazing for us because instagram stories did not exist at the time, so it was permanently on their feeds.
FoodGod’s instagram post of the rainbow bagel got the attention of Business Insider Food (Now ‘Food Insider’), and the next day, January 18, 2016, they called us to inquire about making a video of the inside of The Bagel Store and Scot making the bagels. His process and recipes are a secret, but he agreed to still do interviews and some shots of him making the bagels, because his ultimate goal was to share his passion for art through rainbow bagels to the world. We thought it would be a nice video to have for social content, but didn’t really think much of it at all.
Within that week, the video was filmed, and posted on Facebook on February 2, 2016. Within 24 hours the video was at 70M views. (It is now at 75M views). The social media for The Bagel Store was exploding and the phone was ringing off the hook. We were viral on Facebook, Twitter AND Instagram. We were LITERALLY reaching the whole world.
We had press inquiries from every publication imaginable and news stations locally and domestically. Publications were calling it a ‘unicorn food trend.’ I was on all platforms of social media around the clock handling this traffic as well as my other clients’ work.
Business Insider Food (Food Insider) was so blown away that they decided to release a second video, which was released February 4, 2016 and that amassed an additional 4.7M views. It was at this time, that I was in true disbelief. We all were.
To make matters even more unbelievable: when the second Food Insider video was released, CBS reached out because they wanted rainbow bagels in the SUPER BOWL team colors (Broncos vs Panthers) for them to air on the SUPER BOWL 50, which we did. It was aired on February 7, 2020. I found out that the average cost for an adbuy during the Super Bowl was approximately $5.25 million dollars. We just did it for free.
We just wanted to have fun and now the store couldn’t keep up. The line for The Bagel Store was a constant 3 hours long from when they opened, and Scot insisted that we make the bagels available domestically by shipping them to customers in the continental US. The online orders then backed up for weeks. Essentially we broke the internet and The Bagel Store had to shut down to catch up.
That same month, we started noticing copycats and more copycats around the world who could not seem to get the bagels to look or taste the exact same way that Scot’s bagels did. Rainbow food became a massive trend. Shortly after, Starbucks released the ‘Unicorn Frappuccino.’ That summer, we amicably decided to part ways.
When I look back on it, I can’t believe the massive amounts of people the bagel hit in such a short period of time. From the first Food Insider video to the Super Bowl was only 5 days, but the sensation was buzzing for months — even years. It was an incredibly wild ride — one so unexpected that, it almost seemed unreal.
*Named by People Magazine as one of the ‘biggest food trends’ https://people.com/food/biggest-food-trends-2016/