After fire, Wise Sons new bagel venture up in the air

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When a fire claims one life, leaves dozens homeless and causes a reported $8.5 million in damage, it’s hard to shed a tear over a deli not being able to launch its bagel business.

But because I write about the Jewish food scene in the Bay Area, I need to report on the big doings Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen was up to when its Mission District production kitchen and bakery was ravaged in a four-alarm fire on Jan. 28.

For weeks, Wise Sons’ bakers had been quietly testing and perfecting bagels: plain, everything, sesame seed and salt. A 12-foot-long bagel machine that could spit out thousands of raw bagels a day had been purchased, and a process that included 36 hours of proofing, boiling the bagels in water laced with malt syrup and then baking them in a huge, wheel-in rack oven was in place and ready to go. All of this was to occur in the facility at 22nd and Mission streets.

The new venture had been tabbed Wise Sons Bagel, with a logo designed by co-owner Evan Bloom and his girlfriend, Jessica Choi — a fun drawing of a man with a long beard, hat and tallit riding a fish cowboy-style, with one hand on the reins and the other in the air clutching a bagel “yee-haw” style.

An unpublicized soft launch was set for the morning of Jan. 29, and to help get the word out, Wise Sons was to drop off hundreds of bagels at businesses such as Twitter and Zynga.

The fire started about 14 hours before all that was supposed to happen.

Test run of Wise Sons bagels photo/instragram @wisesons

Beyond the soft launch, Wise Sons had big plans for its bagels, which, according to one local food writer, were “chewy, hot, and thanks to the long proofing, full-bodied, almost sourdough-ian. The New York way.” (I was scheduled to try some on the morning of Jan. 29, but, alas, the fire.)

A major “public reveal,” in Bloom’s words, was set for Feb. 3; it was to include more than 1,000 preordered bagels distributed via a delivery service.

Moreover — and this is my favorite part — Wise Sons was going to set up a handful of bagel outposts around the city, small storefronts that would need a toaster, a coffee machine and not much more. Centrally produced bagels would be delivered hot and fresh every morning.

“The first one was already set, on 22nd Street. We had a 100-square-foot street-front space, right outside our prep kitchen, in the same building, ” Bloom said. “We were about a month away from opening.”

Everything will still happen at some point, but it’s all up in the air for now.

“We still have the same goal,” Bloom said. “But we had to tell our [real estate] broker to put finding the small locations on hold and start looking for a new kitchen and prep facility — which won’t be easy to find.”

Bloom and co-owner Leo Beckerman salvaged their bagel machine, but it requires three-phase electric power and, as of Feb. 10, they hadn’t been able to plug it in anywhere to test it. And because the 22nd and Mission location is still off limits, they haven’t been able to check out the status of their huge oven.

Limited baking of challah, challah buns and bialys has begun at the Contempor-ary Jewish Museum location, where there is a small kitchen. Rugelah and mandelbrot will be next, but babka is still a ways off, and “rye is not happening yet because we don’t have the oven space.”

For the time being, Wise Sons is getting its rye from Max’s, about 250 bagels per week from Beauty’s Bagel Shop in Oakland and assorted pastries from various locations.

If the deli can find a temporary place to bake, bagel production might begin anew. But that’s still a big question mark, and it’s not even a priority. “Our No. 1 goal right now is to make challah, rye and babka,” Bloom said. “And as soon as possible.”

KOSHER NO MORE: When Laura Athuil opened Choux six months ago, she had decided to operate her patisserie under strict kosher guidelines. As time went on, however, she changed her mind, so as of Jan. 30, the specialty French cream puff bakery in San Francisco’s Lower Haight is no longer kosher.

French creampuffs at Choux photo/twitter @chouxsf

Athuil, a member of the Chabad of North Beach community who hails from Nice, France, said there were two reasons for giving up the certification from Vaad Hakashrus of Northern California.

First, she said, she found it very difficult to get the ingredients that adhere to the stricter, Chabad-friendly forms of kosher for dairy (cholev yisroel) and baking (pas yisroel). “And because we work a lot of events, it proved to be impossible for us to stay closed on Saturdays,” she added. “Even if I were to use kosher ingredients, nobody was going to give me kosher certification if we stayed open on Shabbat.”

Athuil said there has been no backlash from customers, who knew from the outset that Choux wasn’t a “kosher bakery” but rather a French bakery that happened to be kosher. She said people thanked her for trying and acknowledged how difficult it is to operate as a kosher business.

FLYING INTO S.F.: A Jewish food vendor who worked at Israel in the Gardens from 2007 to 2012 has opened his first brick-and-mortar restaurant. It’s not far from where he used to serve hundreds of hungry festivalgoers at Yerba Buena Gardens.

Chef-owner Assaf Pashut of the Flying Falafel photo/courtesy flying falafel

Assaf Pashut, who was born and raised in Karmiel in northern Israel, opened the Flying Falafel on Market Street (between Sixth and Seventh streets) in late January, in a tiny spot that formerly sold baked french fries.

“It’s been a long journey to get here, so I’m really happy the day is here,” said Pashut.

He started the operation eight years ago during his senior year at U.C. Berkeley, cooking up falafel for his fellow students as part of a school project. Eschewing his neuroscience major, he opted to make a go of it with a catering business, and the Flying Falafel found its niche at farmers markets, street fairs and outside businesses, mostly in the South Bay.

The new restaurant serves a traditional falafel sandwich for $7, plus some creatively named items such as a “Hummus Saucer” ($5) and a “Falafel Frisbee” with 10 falafel balls ($10). There are also sides and a banana milkshake, and the whole menu is vegan (but not kosher).

Pashut told that he’s already looking for a second location in the South Bay.

Flying Falafel

1051 Market St., San Francisco 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily (6 p.m. on Sundays) (415) 964-1003; @FlyingFalafel on Twitter; Flying Falafel on Facebook



Shorty Goldstein’s Jewish delicatessen has its second anniversary coming up next month, but a lot of people still haven’t tried the downtown San Francisco spot because it’s open only on weekdays and not for dinner. Now comes news that Shorty’s will be popping up at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays through April. The small but representative menu includes a bagel with gravlax ($10), latkes ($7), pastrami and corned beef sandwiches ($10) and matzah ball soup ($5). The location is near the south driveway near Blue Bottle Coffee. “It’s a cool next step for us,” said chef-owner Michael Siegel. “It’s awesome to have that exposure for people who can’t come to the restaurant Monday through Friday.” … As of early this week, 81 tickets had been sold, with a few spots remaining for the “Pre-Purim Persian Party” Feb. 22 at the West Side Café, 2570 Ninth St., Berkeley. The fine-dining event for adults is being run by Kosher Pop-Ups in Berkeley and catered by Dina’s Kosher Catering of San Francisco. Cost is $60 and deadline for signing up is Sunday, Feb. 15. For more information, contact [email protected] … Here’s some good news for fans of Paulie’s Pickling, the Jewish deli counter inside a small but popular food marketplace in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood. The formerly seatless space at 331 Cortland Ave. now has 10 seats … An online campaign to raise money for a proposed parklet in front of Saul’s Deli in Berkeley is set to end on Thursday, Feb. 19. Discount cards to Saul’s (such as a $100 card for $73), tickets to the Jewish Music Festival and a local food tour are available as Saul’s seeks to raise money to help pay for the parklet, which will cost an estimated $45,000 to $55,000. As of early this week, the total raised was only $3,350, well shy of the $15,000 goal. For more information, visit … Old Brooklyn Bagels and Deli in Oakland has opened a second location, this one called Old Brooklyn Cafe and Bakery, at 2228 Broadway on a hot corner in Oakland’s Uptown area. But as I wrote in 2012 (, the “Brooklyn” refers to a district in Oakland (rather than New York), and the bagels, while OK by California standards, won’t put you in a New York state of mind … Bagel Street Cafe, a chain of two dozen independently owned bagel shops mostly in the East Bay, opened a new location last month in Alameda South Shore Center shopping plaza … When the Off the Grid food truck gatherings start up again next month at Fort Mason (Friday nights) and at the Presidio (Sunday afternoons), Oren’s Hummus is going to be a part of one of them, reports David Cohen, executive chef and partner. The Israeli restaurant began in Palo Alto in 2011 and expanded to Mountain View last summer. Cohen says Oren’s is “looking into a new [third] location. Our plan is to keep growing at a steady rate, one to two stores each year for the next two or three years.”

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Andy Altman-Ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr was J.’s managing editor and Hardly Strictly Bagels columnist until he retired in 2016 to travel and live abroad. He and his wife have a home base in Mexico, where he continues his dalliance with Jewish journalism.