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Nothing Says Breakfast Like a Giant Spoonful of Oversized Cheerios: Oh wait, those are bagels. And the handsome baker is known as Joser.

Round and Round It Goes

Our lifesaving Bagelry outposts have given hope to the ravenous for over 25 years

By Christina Waters

Everybody has a gastronomic guilty pleasure, a bit of edible self-indulgence that provides happy, pampering fulfillment. Consult your inner child--you have a pet guilty pleasure. It might be some nongourmet candy bar that always hits the spot. Chocolate. Hot buttered popcorn. Spicy tuna handroll. Fig Newtons.

Mine is the Duke, an opulent layering of cream cheese, apple butter and cashews atop a plump raisin bagel from the Bagelry. Even if I can't finish the entire messy creation in a single sitting--the Duke is packaged as two separate, enormous portions--I can fantasize about finishing the last three bites later, in private.

By now everyone in Santa Cruz County has a favorite Bagelry item--Jack's is the tuna salad on onion bagel. And the potent hummus spread on poppy seed is another destination combo. In business since 1977--can you say "26 years"?--the Bagelry was started by an enterprising trio whose concept was "to run a simple bakery offering bagels, lox and cream cheese," as co-founder John Hamstra recalls.

Now the sole proprietor, Hamstra chuckles over how the needs of the public--"they wanted food to eat right now"--outweighed the miniconcept of the entrepreneurs. The hungry masses demanded a full-on menu of soups, salads, bagel sandwiches and spreads, along with freshly made strong coffee, thank you.

"We started at Seabright, across the parking lot from the present location," Hamstra recalls. "It was a very small space, an 'elbows-in' operation."

That location worked for about three years, until the downtown Cedar Street outlet was unveiled. Spacious and airy, lined with pale wood banquettes, high industrial ceilings and more than a little elbow room, the downtown spot was an instant hit, and the side garden was added soon after. Of the three locations--Seabright, Soquel and downtown--the Cedar Street store "sees the most activity." Doing something right from the very first, the Bagelry pioneered bringing the traditionally ethnic bread to a larger Santa Cruz audience.

"At first there was a lot of discovery involved with bagels," says Hamstra. Maybe. But once bitten, the bagel became a new best friend. From the mid-'70s on, there wasn't a California burg so remote that it didn't offer starving students bagels with cream cheese or tuna as a meal for under $1.

With apologies to Sara Lee, nobody doesn't like a bagel, and there are some obvious reasons. There's that primal shape, fraught with the undeniably paradoxical metaphysics of the hole. And then there's the addictive chewiness of the twice-cooked (boiled and baked) bagel.

"It's a fairly all-purpose vehicle for sandwiches," Hamstra believes. "It's a basic bread--not sweet, not heavy, not fat-intensive--it's pretty enduring."

The Bagelry owner is a master of understatement. Hamstra reveals that the most popular item is "of course, the bagel and cream cheese. And then the second tier includes the tuna salad, egg salad and hummus spread bagel." Individually, onion and sesame bagels "run neck and neck" in popularity. We thought you should know.

However, the Duke ($3.15) remains my personal reason for regular, if furtive, visits to the Bagelry. Was it named for John Wayne? For some British royal? Well, no. It turns out that one of the dough separators used in the first year at the Bagelry was a device called the Duchess.

"The Duchess Dough Divider was the name," Hamstra says, staving off an incoming wave of laughter. "So we named our cream cheese and jam bagel the Duchess." You see where this is going.

"We made another version with nuts, and we called it the Duke."

Yes, this epiphany provides the sort of enlightenment you can only get in Santa Cruz. And, of course, there's the signature tabouli salad, intriguing soups and designer soft drinks. Add original artwork and rock bottom prices and you explain 25 years of well-rounded baking.

The Bagelry
Locations: 320 Cedar St., Santa Cruz; 831.429.8049
1636 Seabright Ave., Santa Cruz; 831.425.8550
4763 Soquel Dr., Soquel; 831.462.9888
Hours: 6:30am-5:30pm Mon-Fri; 7:30am-5:30pm Sat; 7:30am-4pm Sun

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From the August 6-13, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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