Izzy and Noah go head-to-head in Palo Alto bagel war

That which we call a bagel by any other name is just a roll. Just don't call it a "real bagel" on the wrong end of the block in Palo Alto.

Such is the rhetoric of the ongoing bagel wars in which serious contenders have an army of stores and a beachhead on strategic street corners.

No sooner had Stuart Stone and Israel Rind of Izzy's Brooklyn Bagels staked their corner on the market than bagel giant Noah's New York Bagels moved in on the other end of the block.

Stone, a fifth-generation bagel baker, doesn't have an army of stores. But frankly, he isn't that worried about the competition. After all, his is the authentic New York recipe. And he should know. It was handed down from his great-great-grandfather from Romania, who he said opened the first U.S. bagel shop in Harlem in 1885.

Those who followed Grandpa merely reinvented the wheel, so to speak. "New York-style doesn't mean it's a real New York bagel," Stone says.

A true bagel in his book is simply flour, salt, water, malt and yeast. Boiled, not steamed. Prepared correctly, a proper bagel is firm, moist and chewy. A subtle sheen seals the package.

"A New York bagel gets its shine from boiling," Stone says. Some competitors, he says, "spray on the shine."

Izzy's customers tell the kosher shop's proprietors they are outraged by the opening of Noah's nearby. They promise the bagelmakers they will stay loyal.

The Noah's camp is well aware of its neighbor's popularity.

"The only thing that we consider competition is another kosher restaurant, so [Izzy's] is the only competition," Noah's manager Richard Peltier said of the handful of bagelries scattered around Palo Alto.

Noah's opened on California Avenue Tuesday with a relatively slow morning compared to its other stores' 50 customer-per-hour pace, Peltier said. His is the chain's 97th store and its second in Palo Alto.

Noah's executives don't view the opening as poaching on Izzy's business. They simply want to serve bagel eaters wherever they may be, said Sydney Drell, Noah's vice president of marketing.

"Any retailer has to be cognizant of the competition. We look for locations where we're serving a lot of customers, and serve the customer to reduce the wait and make it easier for the customer to get to us."

Drell said it's not as important that her bagels aren't authentic as it is that they taste good. And besides, what's authentic? According to Noah's folklore, the first U.S. bagels came from Poland, not Romania. Then again, founder Noah Alper is from Boston, not Manhattan.

Whether or not authenticity gives Izzy's bagels an edge over the corporate dough, bakers at Izzy's must be doing something right. Inside of three months, customers have noshed the mom-and-pop into the black.

The rotund buns aren't all that patrons come for.

Also on the menu are Nova lox, herring in cream, Middle Eastern salads, knishes, 18 flavors of shmears and a pizza focaccia. The shop is full of natural light, which is good for reading the New York Times over a bagelwich, or reading the New York memorabilia on the walls.

Bob Savage, a regular, said the bagels rate a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10. But location is the biggest reason for his frequent visits.

"I can walk here. It's in between work and [home]. I think it's a nice environment to sit and talk. I like the floor," Savage said of the colorful shale riverbed flooring from India.

A woman nibbling at a seeded bagel last Saturday said she prefers family-run businesses.

And that's what Stone will be counting on in the coming weeks.

"If the guy on the next corner doesn't take a big chunk from us, we should be OK."

Lori Eppstein

Lori Eppstein is a former staff writer.