Back when Noah’s Bagels opened its flagship Berkeley store in 1989, the Bay Area was not known for its boiled-then-baked breads. In New York, delis are an intrinsic part of daily life. In Northern California, they certainly exist but aren’t nearly as ubiquitous.
As Noah’s expanded and metamorphosed into a giant mall chain, the quality of its product rapidly deteriorated. The rise of La Boulangerie, and the owner’s sellout to Starbucks, is a similar story. When Starbucks started to mass-produce La Boulangerie’s baked goods, the end results no longer resembled anything a French pâtisserie might produce. You might as well eat the paper wrappers.
Luckily for us, SF’s bagel culture has continued to evolve. There have always been reliable shops like Noe Bagel and Holey Bagel, but not every San Francisco neighborhood has had it that good. Schlok’s Bagels & Lox made headlines when they opened a couple of months ago on Fell Street. The glowing response to Midnite Bagel’s opening has been described with a similar amount of glee. San Franciscans have been craving better bagels. At last, their appetites are finding plenty of satisfying options all over the city.
Nick Beichter worked at Chez Panisse and Tartine before he started Midnite Bagel as a pop-up in 2019. In 2021, a food writer from the New York Times included Beichter’s bagels in a roundup. “We pre-sold, I think, $10,000 worth of bagels in two days,” he recalled. At the time, he had one other person working with him. “We were making 300 bagels on Saturdays and that was it.” The moment to expand into a full-time business had arrived.
Midnite Bagel is one block up from the Posh Bagel on Irving Street. But Beichter said he didn’t move to the space to compete with the locally born chain (Posh was founded in Los Altos in 1992). One night while he was on a date, he made note of the empty store. He came back to take a tour and found that it was exactly what he’d been looking for in the Inner Sunset. “It was the right location for us,” he said.
His bagels and toppings immediately reminded me of the ones at Beauty’s Bagel Shop in Oakland (now owned by Wise Sons Jewish Deli). Little touches made the bagels stand out at Beauty’s. They’d add a frond of dill, pickle red onions until they turned pink and vinegary, or offer shaved radish slices. Beichter boils and bakes his bagels but added he’s not looking to New York for inspiration.
“Bagels existed before they came to America, before they became the current version of what we call a bagel,” he said, adding that he wants to make something that’s “about our current moment and our place in the world.”
The Midnite menu has already grown since opening up shop in May. I’ve been back twice to pick up their sandwiches, which range from $13.50 (veggies only) to $15.50 (salmon or cod). Midnite Bagel is also offering loaves of bread and a few other baked goods, but I’ve been sticking with the bagels and weekday visits. The weekend lines are already becoming legendary.
646 Irving St.