Having endured the scorn of multiple generations of East Coast transplants, the Bay Area’s bagel scene has gone through a mini-renaissance in recent years. It gets another boost this week with the opening of a permanent, fully Kosher-certified storefront for Boichik Bagels, a former pop-up whose featured product is something of a unicorn for ex-New Yorkers: a loving re-creation of H&H Bagels’ compact, slightly sweet bagels.
Located at 3170 College Avenue in Berkeley, Boichik will fire up its ovens on Friday, November 29 — or “Bagel Black Friday,” as owner and bagel-maker-in-chief Emily Winston is calling it — with a limited menu of bagels, spreads, and lox. The shop’s initial hours will be 7:30 a.m.–1 p.m., but eventually both the hours and the menu will expand, with a full slate of bagel sandwiches and other bagel-adjacent offerings in the works.
While it’s become much easier to secure a good, or at least reasonably okay, bagel in the Bay, there still isn’t much of a bagel culture here — a sense that bagels are a part of people’s everyday routine. That’s what Winston says she wants to create at her shop. Growing up in New Jersey, she would have the same brunch with her family every Sunday: a bag of bagels, some coffee, and a box of Dunkin Donuts. Whenever her father happened to go into Manhattan for work, he’d buy H&H bagels from the original shop on the Upper West Side, and they would eat them for dinner. “These were the holy grail, to be enjoyed with hand-sliced lox from [nearby smoked fish specialist] Zabar’s,” Winston says.
It was the everydayness of bagels in her life that made Winston take them for granted for all those years she lived on the East Coast, and also what made it especially painful when the original H&H closed in 2011 and its owner wound up filing for bankruptcy (though a cousin of the chain has since opened). That news was what prompted Winston, who had since moved to the Bay Area was working as a mechanical engineer, to start making her own bagels, just as a hobby at first — tinkering with the recipe to try to recapture that lost flavor. Five years later, she’d finally gotten it down: “It’s closely enough reminiscent of the right flavor profile and the right chew that it hits the nostalgia button that makes me happy,” she says. These are traditional water bagels, boiled first before they get baked on stone.
The whole process appealed to math/science part of Winston’s brain. “I hesitate to call myself a true baker right now,” she says. “I feel much more comfortable saying I’m ‘bagel engineering’ more than baking.” True baker or not, the bagels were so well received that Winston decided to give starting an actual bagel business a shot, landing her first big break two years ago at the Eat Real Festival in Jack London Square and, eventually, signing a lease at the Berkeley location of the original Noah’s Bagels — a fitting way to complete the circle of her bagel reformation efforts.
Here in the Bay Area, the highest-quality bagels are folded into the broader artisanal bread movement, and there can be a certain preciousness associated with the experience: You stand on a long line so that you can sit down and eat a fancy bagel sandwich inside a restaurant. But Winston says that in all the years she spent in New Jersey, she never bought a bagel sandwich. Instead, the people she knew would buy bags of bagels and bring them home make their own sandwiches — something she hardly sees anyone doing out here in the Bay Area. “I want to bring that East Coast tradition back.”
The shop itself is meant to be Winston’s tribute to the New York bagel shop, with an open kitchen so customers can watch the bagels being made, and very little preciousness — even though the bagels, at $3 a pop, will be a high-end product. There won’t be any Heath ceramics involved, Winston says: “I want to recreate a pastiche of my own childhood bagel memory.” That sensibility will dictate her menu offerings, which will include a robust smoked fish program and a bialy modeled after the one served at Kossar’s in New York before its most recent ownership change. “It’s like I’m trying to save all these endangered species,” she says.
Winston says she was inspired by ambitious bagel makers like Baron Baking and Beauty’s Bagel Shop that were opening stores and wholesale businesses in the Bay Area when she was first starting out. Now, she says, there’s a whole new generation of bagel shops — places like Daily Driver in San Francisco and the Bagel Mill in Petaluma.
“People doing similar things all over the country because there has been such a diaspora from New York,” Winston says. “You miss it. You grow up with this thing and you realize you miss it.”