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Food & Drink

San Francisco has reached peak bagel. It’s a blessing and a curse

The good news is it's easier than ever to get a good bagel. The bad news? It might lose some of its allure.

A close up of a pile of bagels of various flavor.
Wise Sons, which distributes its bagels throughout the city, is one of a cohort of companies fueling San Francisco’s bagel boom. | Source: Adahlia Cole for The Standard

Heard the one about the Jewish deli that lowered prices on bagels? Nope, it’s not a Larry David joke.

In a press release, Wise Sons Deli announced this week that it is decreasing the price of packs of bagels, offering four for $9—about a dollar less than they usually cost and only a dollar more than four bagels at House of Bagels, San Francisco’s 62-year-old institution, where neighborhood families go for a work-a-day kind of breakfast.

Was Wise Sons’ decision just a smart marketing ploy? Or a response to “greedflation”? The bagelry’s CEO Jeff Weinstein said the promo is a conscious effort to counterbalance the high cost of food and groceries and keep the company’s New York-style bagels accessible. 

“I grew up in Detroit with my family getting bagels every weekend, and for us, it wasn’t an affordable luxury—it was just affordable,” Weinstein said.

A selection of bagels at Wise Sons including loose bagels and bagged bagels.
Due to the recent growth of local bagel companies including Wise Sons, Boichik and Daily Driver, quality bagels are more accessible than ever in San Francisco. | Source: Adahlia Cole for The Standard

But beyond wanting to create a bagel-safe space, Weinstein also acknowledges there’s been an abundance of competition since Wise Sons launched as a pop-up in early 2011. “It definitely factored into our decision about pricing.”

As recently as a decade ago, there was no bagel competition in San Francisco to speak of—just a lot of displaced New Yorkers whining about living in a bagel desert. The Bay Area was occupied by the likes of Noah’s, with a few respectable local options such as Saul’s in Berkeley and mini-chain The Posh Bagel. 

But in the last decade or so, the region might have reached the apex of its bagel bell curve, with bagels being treated with as much care as cult croissants. Today, San Francisco has a growing roster of high-brow bagel choices, including Berkeley-based Boichik, Schlok’s, and The Laundromat. Emulating the classic New York style, some are hand-shaped and slow-proofed before being boiled and then baked. Others use sourdough starters and organic flour. It is fair to say we have reached peak bagel.

The bagel boom started in earnest in 2011, when pop-up Schmendricks launched, making bagels good enough to earn praise from the New York Times. (Sadly, after a couple years, Schmendricks sputtered out.) In 2012, Wise Sons opened its deli in the Mission District, though for four whole years, they flatly refused to even attempt making the bagels they’re now known for.

In 2018, Midnite Bagel’s distinctive whole-grain sourdough bagels, which carried extra cache thanks to owner Nick Beitcher’s connection to cult-favorite bakery Tartine, started to draw long lines at farmers markets. A year later, Daily Driver delivered its wood-fired specimens, just a few months before self-taught baker Emily Winston settled Boichik Bagels into a permanent Berkeley home. The East Coast-native recalls her choices at the time. “If there had been a bagel that I was content to eat, I never would have gone through all the work of making my own.”

Since then, the Bay Area bagelscape has only continued to diversify. In the past two years, scrappy little businesses including Chicken Dog and Hella Bagels in Albany have risen up to bring shiny bagels to the people. Even James Beard Award-winning chef Chrisopher Kostow got into the game with the opening of his “Jew-ish” deli Loveski at Napa’s Oxbow Public Market. 

The result is that a good bagel is more accessible than ever—including at grocery stores. A four-pack of Wise Sons onion is now in the aisle of Gus’s, though it might require a few minutes in the toaster oven to achieve its fullest potential. Boichik bagels can be had at coffee shops like Signal, and Daily Driver sells theirs at markets, including Good Life Grocery.

Suffice it to say, bagel scarcity is no longer a problem. But has this newfound gluttony diminished our eating experience?

A half dozen bagels including poppyseed, salt, and plain sit on a piece of Schlok's wax paper.
Shlock's, which opened on Fell St. in 2022, bakes its bagels fresh on-site. | Source: Jonathan Racusin for Schlok's Bagels & Lox

Can there be too many good bagels?

There remains something alluring—maybe even delicious—about a bagel that demands an investment of effort to secure.  

This used to be the case with Boichik, which, when it opened in Rockridge, immediately drew lines that stretched around the block. Five years later, Boichik—which has a massive, glassed-in factory in Berkeley—might be the biggest name in Bay Area bagels. The company has a new retail shop in San Francisco, plus stores from Santa Clara to Larkspur. Plans include two more outposts in San Francisco this year alone. Today, Boichik’s bagels can even be found in the frozen food aisle at Los Angeles’s cult-famous grocery store, Erewhon. 

For her part, Winston doesn’t see any downside to the Boichik expansion–nor to the increasing availability of good bagels. “No one has ever complained in New York that there are too many good bagels around,” Winston said. “So I don’t think it’s a problem.” 

For those bagel connoisseurs who still crave a singular bagel experience, there are bakers so committed to controlling quality that expansion seems unlikely. Zack Schwab, who co-founded Schlok’s with business partner James Lok, says their team has their hands full with the intermittent weather, trying to bake a consistent product when the usually foggy San Francisco weather experiences days-long heat spells. Adjustments are required for even the slightest changes in the ambient temperature and humidity.

A metal tray holds a variety of bagels, some plain, some with sesame seeds, and others coated in everything seasoning. The bagels are casually arranged.
Fresh bagels at Wise Sons in Oakland on Thursday. | Source: Adahlia Cole for The Standard

A second retail store isn’t entirely out of the question, but Schwab is skeptical that it’s possible to grow a bagel business without making some compromises. “If you’re looking to maintain quality, it means you’re not scaling in any serious way,” he says. “If people are smart enough to do it, good luck to them. But I think it’s just pretty clear what happens when you grow quickly.”

Getting to the shop, which sits on a block on Fell St. sandwiched between two heavily trafficked one-way thoroughfares, still requires a good amount of dedication: finding a parking spot, walking a couple of blocks, and waiting in a line to place your order. It’s undeniably more work than rolling into a grocery store to snag a plastic-wrapped pack and a tub of schmear. But as Schwab points out, if you time your visit right, you may still be able to feel the heat coming through a bagel fresh out of the oven.

“I can’t really imagine how it would be fresher,” Schwab said.

Lauren Saria can be reached at