.Bageltopia Invites Diners to Sit Down and Enjoy

Bagels to go and bagels to stay

Of course Bageltopia’s menu includes bagel sandwiches with flavored cream cheeses galore, including eggs, lox or vegan lox—made with a carrot slaw—or all of the above. What distinguishes Dan Graf’s bagel-making establishment from a considerable list of competitors is the dining room. Instead of the grab-and-take-it-to-go model, Bageltopia has moved its baking operation into a full-sized restaurant.

Although not much has changed in the way of décor from the previous tenant, The King’s Feet, Bageltopia already feels like a comfortable diner only a few weeks after opening. Customers can sit down to enjoy Graf’s signature boiled and baked bagels at a leisurely pace, instead of walking back to their cars to consume them quickly, haphazardly, where the ingredients frequently spill down shirt fronts and across steering wheels.

In a recent telephone interview, Graf, who ran Baron Baking for over a decade, acknowledged that the half-life of a bagel is, “maybe two to three hours after it’s baked.” Baron Baking sold bagels wholesale whereas Bageltopia is the baker’s first foray into retail sales, a revision of a concept he started with business partners Jeff Davis, of Fellini Coffeebar, and Mike Daillak, of Sam’s Log Cabin.

“The first day we opened I walked out of the kitchen, looked around and saw everyone sitting down to eat,” Graf recalled. “It was incredible and such a good feeling.” Bageltopia already has a set of regulars who set up their laptops and hang out. “The lighting is so good during the day,” he said. “Just with all those windows, and it feels like [Bageltopia’s] a good fit for the space.” 

There are several reasons Graf didn’t pursue a retail business before Bageltopia, financing and time chief among them. But when he connected with Davis, who holds the lease, the timing was right. “The creative side of cooking is something you can’t really do in wholesale,” he said. “That’s one of the major benefits of doing this.” May’s specials—a fennel and salt bagel and a lemon and spruce cream cheese—would be hard sells to clients expecting sesame seed bagels and chive cream cheese. 

For Graf, the positive aspect of operating a customer-facing business is the direct line of communication he can have with them about special items. His spruce cream cheese is made from the green tips of the tree’s branches.

“It’s like a little bud with pine needles in there,” he said. “It’s very floral, aromatic—almost a citrusy flavor.” Graf finely chops up the buds to combine them with cream cheese, a simple syrup made with sugar and Meyer lemon zest. “I wanted to try to make a spruce-tip bagel but none of them really tracked and then I realized, well, make a cream cheese instead,” he said. 

There’s a long list of vegan options on the menu, which Graf said Davis brought to the table. Initially, Bageltopia was going to be much more meat-forward. “There are obvious benefits to doing that, too, because we have people coming every day asking for bacon, egg and cheese,” he said. “But I do feel that creativity, when it’s constrained in some ways, you come up with better solutions.”

Bageltopia walks a comfortable line between being a bagel shop and offering restaurant-level service—although customers pick up their own orders when their buzzers ring. And the buzzers ring frequently. Once they start to fail, it might be worthwhile to invest in silent buzzers that simply light up.

A single bagel sells for $2.50, plus $1 more for a hand-rolled cinnamon raisin. There are at least 11 types of cream cheese to choose from (plain for $1.75 up to lox at $3.50) and many extras such as basil butter ($2), strawberry preserves ($1.50) or tuna salad ($4.50).  

Graf’s bagels at Baron Baking received early acclaim in 2012 in a New York Times article written by the journalist and cookbook author, Joan Nathan. Although the name and the business model have changed, Graf still uses the same process and the same recipes for dough. They still come out of the oven as crisp and pleasantly salty as a homemade pretzel.  

Bageltopia, open Tue–Sun, 7:30am to 2pm; 1401 University Ave., Berkeley. thebageltopia.com.

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