When you think about Ben Kaminsky, you think about coffee. You think about his years spent fine-tuning the roast and roasting process for Ritual Coffee Roasters; you think about the three US Cup Tasters Championships he has hanging from his belt; you think about simple, beautiful coffee and the man who’s helped bring it to the forefront. But, do you think about bagels? Do you think about perfect, uniquely San Francisco-style circles of dough, smeared with cream cheese and lox and served from behind the counter of an upscale pizza parlor in San Francisco’s Outer Mission? If not, well, then it’s time to start doing so. It’s time to start thinking about Shegetz Bagels.
Kaminsky, now a traveling coffee consultant for new roasters and shops the world over, has always been an avid home baker. “Obviously, it appeals to the side of my brain that likes measuring things,” Kaminsky told me. “Baking always appealed to me because bakers are so diligent about measuring and consistency,” he says. When the idea for Shegetz Bagels popped up, Kaminsky had been tooling around with baking croissants and bagels with his friend and professional baker Alex Rogers. When Rogers departed his position at San Francisco’s 20th Century Cafe, the two stepped up their dedication to creating what they believed to be an exemplary bagel.
“People are constantly talking about how we don’t have bagels on the West Coast,” Kaminsky says, “and there’s all these crackpot theories about why—the water, etc.—it’s absurd.” Putting the long-believed bagel conspiracies behind them, Rogers, Kaminsky and their third partner—Pizzetta 211’s Oliver Steele—they went for it. Using their years of combined food industry experience and San Francisco-darling Pizza Hacker’s kitchen and dining room, Shegetz Bagel (“shegetz” is the derogatory term for a “non-Jewish boy or man” in Yiddish) opened its doors—or rather Pizza Hacker’s, but earlier in the day—a few months ago to a line of fifty bagel-deprived customers. Accolades from reputable Bay Area food sources followed and the line kept growing. “It speaks a little to our marketing prowess, and a lot to San Francisco being a very established food city,” Kaminsky says, “We’ve been getting quite a bit of love from the press and neighborhood-dwellers alike, and that makes it way more fun.”
Shegetz Bagels serves what Rogers, Kaminsky, and Steele are calling West Coast bagels—smaller and denser than typical New York bagels, with a snap to the crust and a soft, doughy inside—but the trio is constantly working to evolve, and improve, what they currently have. “Each of us has a really strong food lexicon to draw from,” Kaminsky says, “and we want to just keep working on the recipe, get it as close to perfect as possible.” Their commitment to tweaking the recipe bleeds into the service they’re providing for their customers.
“I think the biggest things to translate out of our combined food industry experience has been how to treat people, and the value of building systems that support speed and general fluidity in service,” Kaminsky tells me, “We want to show people that we value their time by providing a fast, casual experience but make that informal experience high quality.” Kaminsky’s years of looking at the smallest variable in a roast profile or in the way a coffee shop setup affects the flow and speed in which a line is dispersed has seamlessly transitioned to the pop-up. Kaminsky, Steele, and Rogers want to make the ideal bagel, and serve it to their customers in the ideal way.
And of course, these philosophies extend to the coffee service as well. Kaminsky decided to use Portland’s Heart Coffee with a FETCO batch-brew setup for efficiency, but also because of the quality both Heart and the batch-brew provide along with that efficiency. When Shegetz Bagels fired up, Kaminsky knew his time would be split between responsibilities outside of coffee. “The decision for batch-brew was based on just looking at what we would need to make the line flow,” Kaminsky says, “and I think when we have some really nice Kenyan or Ethiopian coffee from Heart dialed in, we easily have some of the best coffee in town.”
On the day I visited, the airy, brightly colored decor of Pizza Hacker’s dining room was a warm respite from the torrential downpour drowning the sidewalks of San Francisco. Kaminsky and his two partners, alongside a small crew of cooks, diligently prepared the kitchen—slicing the lox, testing the bagel consistency, hanging the hand-drawn menu on the wall, dropping doughy “o” after doughy “o” into a large pot of boiling water. As word-of-mouth keeps spreading, customers continue to come out in force—but both Shegetz Bagels and Kaminsky are playing the future by ear. “I’m setting the company up to prepare for someone with money to come along, because I definitely want to leave that possibility open,” said Kaminsky. There has been talk of a brick-and-mortar amongst the owners, but for the moment, Shegetz will continue to sell bagels out of Pizza Hacker, with a forthcoming stop at Four Barrel in the works as well. “We’ve got a lot of ideas, so we want to keep pushing on that,” Kaminsky says, “and if someone comes along and is down to ride with us, we would definitely pursue something bigger.”