It happens numerous times a day, starting around noon and going into the afternoon: the “Bagel Brothers” at Authentic Bagel Company in Jack London Square are cleaning up and putting their kitchen back together after turning it into a retail store, when someone stops by for a bagel with a schmear. The reply is always the same: “We were sold out by 11:30.” When that reply deviates, it’s that they sold out even earlier.
The brothers’ bagel business is all about customer service, and they want to give their customers what they want. Which is why they’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign, to expand their business into a proper café and retail space next door.
“We do roughly between 1,200 and 1,800 bagels a day out of 650 square feet of space,” said Jason Scott, the younger of the two siblings. After they are done baking, an elaborate ritual of Tetris happens, in which they fashion their tiny space into a retail shop, moving counters, toasters and a flat-top so they can sell bagel breakfast sandwiches and coffee.
Since opening on 2nd Street near Broadway a year and a half ago, Authentic Bagel has become a fixture of the neighborhood.
“We know everyone by first name, and they know us,” said Jason. “We know if they have kids playing baseball or what company they work for. Jack London doesn’t have many spots to hang out during the day, there are a few cafés, but none of them are serving bagels. We want to give them a place to hang out.”
They want to be the kind of place where they not only know your name but know whether you’re a sesame or poppy guy, toasted or not, and whether you take yours with an egg and bacon or vegetable cream cheese.
Said Mark: “We’re going for that corner barbershop mentality, like a local watering hole, where you can come in and shoot the shit about sports or whatever you did the night before. We want it to feel like an extension of your own house, but where we’re going to take care of you.”
Both trained chefs who attended Johnson & Wales culinary school, the brothers Scott began experimenting with making bagels when working at Monaghan’s on the Hill in the Oakland hills. Neither had any baking experience, but saw a vacuum when it came to an authentic bagel that so many East Coast transplants craved. Their bagels became so popular at the restaurant, they decided to go out on their own.
“The Bay Area has some of the best food in the country and that extends to bread, too,” said Jason. “But for some reason the bagels were always terrible.”
Mark explained that their bagels are the perfect mash-up between East Coast tried and true methods and a Bay Area sensibility: their recipe is a combination of their grandmother’s, tweaked with one they found from the 1800s online, using sourdough starter.
“At that time, they didn’t have yeast, so they had to create it by using starter dough,” said Mark. They played around with a recipe until they got a result they liked, where they also retard the dough, which means leaving it in the refrigerator for a full 24 hours, and of course, what makes a bagel a bagel, boiling it.
A lot of the Bay Area bagel establishment don’t retard the dough, or they steam the bagels rather than boil them, explained Mark, which is why they come out airier and fluffier than a bagel should be – i.e. the familiar “bread with a hole” complaint – and most importantly, don’t pass muster with discriminating East Coast palates.
Their process is “labor-intensive and time-consuming, which is why a lot of these places don’t do it,” said Mark. “We don’t want to bad-mouth them but if you’re talking about a bagel’s characteristics, it has to be chewy, dense and crispy and you won’t get that from steaming it or proofing it for 45 minutes to an hour. Retarding it gives it the denseness, chewiness and helps with the crust. We really stay true to how a bagel is supposed to be made, which is why we call ourselves the Authentic Bagel Company.”
While they’ve already taken over the lease for the space next door, their Kickstarter campaign would allow them to buy an espresso machine (now they only offer drip), a juicer to offer cold-pressed juices and other equipment to have the trappings of a regular café. While they already brine their own corned beef and make their own lox, they’d like to expand into other Jewish deli type offerings as well.
The business has a waiting list for more wholesale accounts, East Bay establishments that would like to carry their bagels, but until they expand, they can’t fulfill those orders. They also don’t want to be stocked in grocery stores – even though they’ve been asked – because they fear it would affect the quality.
Business partner Ryan Gozinsky-Irwin, who unlike the brothers, was born and bred in Oakland, says he can always tell when a native East Coaster comes in, just by the way they order. “The context in which they function with me gives me some indication,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told ‘I haven’t been able to get a good bagel in the Bay Area for so many years,’ and now some of them are saying our bagels are even better than New York’s. According to some of our customers, now Oakland has the best bagels in the nation.”
So what do Authentic’s bagels taste like? A personal view
Alix Wall writes: As the daughter of New Yorkers, and as someone who spent most of her 20s living in New York City, I like to think I know a good bagel when I taste one. When I first came back to California 14 years ago, I used to shlep a dozen bagels each time I visited New York in my luggage to put in my freezer, so I could have my New York bagel whenever I wanted one. I agreed that most bagels to be found here were merely fluffy bread with a hole, and chose going bagel-less over eating those things they tried to pass off as bagels.
I don’t eat bagels as much anymore, but I was impressed with Authentic’s. The sourdough flavor was slight, just enough to make it interesting. The inside was chewy, as it’s supposed to be, and the crust had the important crispiness factor that’s so often missing in Bay Area bagels. They’re not New Yorkers, but who cares, Rhode Island is close enough. These guys are the real deal.
Where else to go for great bagels in the East Bay
While finding a bagel in the East Bay has never been difficult, finding one up to a bagel connoisseur’s standards is much harder. Without naming names, most of the long-time bagel shops steam rather than boil.
In addition to Authentic Bagel Company, to get a hand-rolled, boiled bagel, you can also visit Beauty’s Bagel Shop at 3838 Telegraph Ave., for wood-fired, Montreal-style bagels, or try Baron Baking bagels, which are carried at Saul’s Deli, 1475 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, among other places.
Authentic Bagels are available 8 a.m. until they run out Thursdays to Mondays at 463 2nd St., Oakland, as well as at a number of East Bay establishments (to find out where, visit Authentic Bagel online.
Alix Wall is an Oakland-based freelance writer and personal chef.
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