Employees at bagel shop
Employees work behind the counter on opening day at Hella Bagels in Albany on Wednesday, March 6, 2024. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

In bagel news: Hella opens in Albany, Boichik will expand with 3 shops in S.F.

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Hella Bagels opened Wednesday in Albany, becoming the latest bagel enterprise to transition from pandemic startup to brick-and-mortar establishment.

Hella’s journey started in Blake Hunter’s home kitchen four years ago as a delivery service. Then the bagels began showing up in pop-ups around Berkeley. In particular, Hunter’s fan base grew exponentially at Hidden Cafe.

Man cuts ribbon with giant scissors to mark the opening of Hella Bagels
Owner Blake Hunter (right) cuts a ribbon to officially open Hella Bagels in Albany on Wednesday, March 6, 2024. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

When I wrote about Hunter in June 2020 — just months into the Covid-19 pandemic — the Bay Area native said his parents, both from New Jersey, made sure he always understood as a child that California bagels were inferior to their East Coast cousins. Hunter describes Hella’s as “inspired by but not wedded to the New York bagel.”

The Hella menu is focused on bagels, schmears and cold bagel sandwiches for now. Bagel flavors are your basic plain, poppy, onion, garlic, sesame, salt and everything.

Schmears are where things get interesting. Beyond plain, the schmears include lox, scallion, garlic confit, jalapeño cilantro, spicy samba, veggie, horseradish-lemon-dill, spicy mango peach and berries and cream. For vegans, there’s Violife  “cream cheese.” Hunter hopes to add hot bagel sandwiches to the menu in the future.

One friend who went on opening day raved about the “lox tycoon” sandwich with lox, cream cheese, tomato, dill, lemon, capers and scallion schmear.

Hella Bagels, with both indoor and outdoor seating, is located at 1019 San Pablo Ave., Albany. It’s open 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays.

bagel with lox
The “Lox Tycoon” at Hella Bagels in Albany. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

Meanwhile, the San Francisco Business Times was the first to report on Monday that Berkeley-based Boichik Bagels are finally coming to San Francisco. That will bring Boichik’s sites to eight, beyond its stores in Palo Alto, Larkspur, Santa Clara and, of course, Berkeley with two sites.

Boichik will open three locations in the city this spring: 1946 Fillmore St. in Lower Pacific Heights, 22 Battery St. in the Financial District and 3665 Sacramento St. in Presidio Heights. Only the Battery Street location will have seating.

The bagels will be baked at Boichik’s factory in North Berkeley and delivered to the San Francisco stores each morning.

Boichik, which started at a food festival and with a pop-up in 2017, was hailed by a New York Times restaurant critic in 2021 as offering “some of the finest New York-style bagels I’ve ever tasted.”

It’s no accident that the Presidio Heights store is located between the JCCSF and Congregation Emanu-El and that the Fillmore Street location is a block away from Congregation Sherith Israel, Boichik founder Emily Winston told J.

She considered opening a location in the Mission District but decided it wasn’t enough of a historic Jewish neighborhood, unlike Fillmore Street where Jews settled as far back as the 1880s.

“While Boichik Bagels are for everyone who loves them,” she said, “they’re really for people for whom they’re not just hip, trendy food — but soul food.”

Photographer Aaron Levy-Wolins contributed to this report. 

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."