Monday morning of this week started out just like any other Monday morning for Emily Winston, owner of Boichik Bagels in Berkeley. It’s one of her two days off, so she was just relaxing when the phone call came.
A friend and someone who has been following the progress of Boichik closely since it began — OK, it was this reporter — called with some incredible news: In a headline that could only be considered incendiary by many, the New York Times had just declared, “The Best Bagels are in California (Sorry, New York).”
And not only that, but the author of the March 8 article, New York Times restaurant critic Tejal Rao, singled out Boichik as her new favorite.
Rao opened the article by describing how a Boichik bagel looks and smells, and then wrote the following: “This is where the writer (me), a former resident of New York City (Brooklyn), smugly tells you that these bagels are good for California bagels, excellent by West Coast standards. But no, to be clear: Emily Winston’s bagels are some of the finest New York-style bagels I’ve ever tasted. They just happen to be made in Berkeley.”
“I can die a very happy and fulfilled person now,” Winston told me about 24 hours after the article was posted. “I’ve achieved everything I set out to achieve. There’s no greater honor for a bagel shop, no further accolade past the New York Times declaring my bagels the best.”
The article also prominently featured Midnite Bagel, which are sold at San Francisco’s Ferry Building and Courage Bagels and Pop’s, in the Los Angeles area. Rao gave brief mentions to four other bagel shops in the L.A. area and to Daily Driver in San Francisco.
The article’s timing was noteworthy in that, on March 5, Food and Wine Magazine published a list of the 50 best bagel spots in the country, and no Bay Area purveyors made the list.
Bay Area bagel enthusiasts likely remember the 2015 New York Times Magazine cover story by local journalist Elizabeth Weil, which was headlined “Why Is it So Hard to Get a Great Bagel in California?”
Now, six years later, clearly it’s not.
(It’s worth noting that a few years before that, celebrated Jewish food writer Joan Nathan wrote in the Times that Berkeley’s Baron Bagels (available at Saul’s Deli) were “as good as Brooklyn’s.”)
Boichik opened in Berkeley in November 2019, but 23 months earlier, I wrote about how there were lines around Winston’s home in Alameda, where she was briefly selling them. New Jersey native Winston quickly became a media darling for daring to say out loud that she was trying to bring a true New York bagel — modeled after her fond memories of the old H&H — to her adopted home.
This week, not surprisingly, Winston was experiencing an onslaught. As of Tuesday, she had already shut off pre-orders for Wednesday, and she had done one interview with a New York City radio station, with other interviews (a podcast and a local TV station) lined up. The shop is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, so earlier this week, Winston procured extra flour from a local bakery friend, and still needed more, to meet the insane demand. On Wednesday at 7:30 a.m., when Boichik opened its doors, the line for walk-up orders was already wrapped around the block.
While Winston noticed bumps in business after being covered by the San Francisco Chronicle a couple of times in 2020, this was truly “next level, a much greater magnitude,” she noted. She said she was grateful her website hadn’t crashed (she could see people looking at it from all over the world). Her phone was ringing constantly, and her Instagram feed was blowing up, as well.
Also, she was getting more wholesale inquiries, with people wanting her to ship bagels to them all over the country.
Thanks @nytimes for the story on @boichikbagels — the line at 7:30 am this morning wrapped around the block and they stopped taking online orders for tomorrow due to ‘overwhelming’ demand. Cc: @berkeleyside pic.twitter.com/HU90gtnzNB— Ann Saphir (@annsaphir) March 10, 2021
“I guess the world needs something more productive to fight about than all the other things,” Winston observed, adding that this might be the biggest bagel news since actor Cynthia Nixon, then a candidate for governor in New York, declared her favorite bagel order to be lox, plain cream cheese, tomatoes, red onion and capers on a cinnamon-raisin bagel.
While Winston couldn’t be more excited (as well as overwhelmed) to deal with all the anticipated craziness of the next few weeks, and said she was grateful she had a highly capable staff, she also noted that since Boichik Bagels is kosher, her shop will close the whole week of Passover, which starts the night of March 27.
“I’m feeling really grateful for that right now,” she said, “as we can just collapse in a heap.”
A version of this story first appeared on J., the Jewish News of Northern California. Reprinted with permission.