Poppy Bagels is another new startup bakery, cold-proofed during the pandemic, and now picking up steam. It’s a one-woman bagel operation, offering pickup, delivery, and a few pop-ups in SF and Oakland. And yes, East Coasters, okay! The bagels are good — truly shiny and chewy, the kind that 90s kids may glow nostalgic about.
Reesa Kashuk is a former home cook, with no professional bread experience, she just loved and missed bagels. She was born and raised in Manhattan, and moved to San Francisco six years ago to work for an advertising agency, when she started baking bagels at home. “I couldn’t find a bagel anywhere, it’s your typical story,” Kashuk says. “I was very naive, and thought, ‘Oh! Let me try making them.’ … So I started making them for myself, to satisfy this craving, thinking it’s going to be a fun little project.” But eventually, the bagels started rolling, when she began sharing them with friends and colleagues. She quit her day job three months ago, in the middle of the pandemic, and officially took the plunge.
While some California bagel-makers are experimenting with natural leavening and freshly milled flours, that’s not the deal here. “Poppy Bagels are authentic, hand-rolled, boiled, and baked bagels. I make them with as many locally sourced ingredients as possible,” explains Kashuk “ ... It’s an authentic New York–style bagel. I wanted to bring that to the Bay Area, and I have a very specific idea of what that is for me.” Kashuk follows the traditional process she grew up seeing in shops, shaping each bagel by hand, and cold-proofing them for 36 to 48 hours, before boiling them in lye, and blasting them at high heat. She sticks with conventional yeast, she does try to use local flour, and she couldn’t care less about the whole water argument.
“My bagel criteria consists of four things,” Kashuk states authoritatively. The skin needs to be thin and shiny, with a smattering of bubbles beneath the surface. The texture needs to be truly chewy, never bready, as so many complain. The seeds and seasonings should be rolled around on all sides: no sad naked bottoms, that everything spice should be everywhere. And never least, “It should taste like a bagel and not bread,” meaning a little more aggressively salty and sweet, with that malty aroma that billows as soon as you open the box.
Compared to current trends in New York bagels, Kashuk prefers a smaller classic navel shape, rather than those “massive balls of dough” that are blowing up at Ess-a-Bagel, for instance. And she’s also a purist on flavors, featuring plain, poppy, sesame, everything, and salt and pepper — that’s it. No unicorn rainbow bagels around here, Lisa Frank fans. But she does get a little more creative with spreads (“schmear” is the action verb, “spread” is the noun, in this pro’s opinion). She sources cream cheese locally from Sierra Nevada’s venerable Gina Marie, and smashes it with scallions, sun-dried tomatoes, or other seasonal variations like wasabi and tobiko or beets and pickles.
It’s actually been a dense year for bagels in the Bay, with a number of pop-ups, such as Midnite Bagel, and recent openings, from Boichik Bagels in Berkeley to Wise Sons taking over Beauty Bagels in Oakland, not to mention the long-standing favorites at 20th Century Cafe in SF. But an array of options has never stopped New Yorkers from complaining about our local bagels. “A lot of East Coasters are looking for that nostalgic bagel. I certainly was, and I thought that was something that was missing,” Kashu says. “But I definitely think there’s room for other types of bagels. I love sourdough bagels, I just think that they’re different. … Maybe the California bagel still needs to be defined.”
Poppy Bagels are available by the dozen for preorder through Mini Mart, with pickup options on Thursdays and Saturdays in SF and the East Bay, or delivery for a $5 fee, or you can grab a single bagel on Saturdays at Noe Cafe, that sleek new coffee shop in a former laundromat. Or keep an eye on Instagram for upcoming bagel pop-ups.