So how was it that bagels gained mainstream acceptance and bialys didn’t? I think of it this way: that where bialys are concerned, you come to the bread. With bagels, the bread comes to you. Which is to say that the bagel is a much more convenient and approachable bread than the bialy. It comes in a range of flavors for one thing, which means it’s adaptable to a wide variety of tastes. Second and probably more importantly, it splits, and that makes it a perfect base for that oh-so-American of meal formats: the sandwich. Its applications are virtually unlimited.
The bialy resists mainstreaming in part because it comes in pretty much just one flavor: onion. Or garlic. Either way you wouldn’t want a pile of them in a basket in the center of a your meeting room table. Not unless you planned to meet with the windows open. Sure, I can imagine them filled with other things like cheese or potato, but then there’s still the splitting issue. You can’t turn it into a sandwich. As I mentioned before a bialy is sort of like a savory Danish. As the kids like to say today: it is what it is.
The bialy also has other limiting factors, like the fact that it stales quickly. Small airy rolls stay fresh for about eight hours, tops. Bagels, due to the density of their crumb, are edible the next day, and probably toast-able even on day three provided you didn’t leave them sitting out on the kitchen counter all night.
So yep, when it comes to adapting to the modern on-the-go bread user, advantage: bagel. Even though, at least in my humble opinion, a fresh bialy beats it my a mile in both flavor and texture.