Emily Winston talks journey to starting nationally acclaimed Boichik Bagels

photo of Boichik Bagels
Hsi-Min Chan/Staff
Owner of Boichik Bagels, Emily Winston, discussed starting her business at an event hosted by the Berkeley Forum. Winston initially made batches of bagels for her neighbors before enrolling in food entrepreneurship classes, where she sold her first bagels.

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When Emily Winston got the “terrible news” in 2011 that one of her favorite bagel spots was closing its doors due to tax fraud, she was shocked and saddened as she was an avid eater of its bagels. Now, Winston is the owner of Boichik Bagels, which has been called one of the best bagel spots in the nation by The New York Times.

At an event hosted by the Berkeley Forum on Monday, Winston discussed how she started her business in November 2019 after observing a wave of “bagel entrepreneurship” in 2010. For instance, a pop-up in San Francisco gained popularity for selling New York-style bagels at the time.

As someone who grew up in New Jersey and initially thought that the New York-style treats could never be replicated on the West Coast, Winston noted the surge of bagel entrepreneurship convinced her that she could make them herself.

“Maybe I can figure out how to make (bagels) for myself because apparently, it might not be impossible,” Winston said at the event.

She noted that she began to make batches of bagels for her neighbors to taste and provide feedback. Five years later, Winston made a bagel that was praised by a Long Island friend, who told her she should start selling them.

Winston said at the event she later decided to enroll in food entrepreneurship classes, which organized a field festival where she sold her first bagels.

“It was fun but we actually had a bunch of bagels left over and I was all discouraged,” Winston said at the event.

Despite the initial disappointment, she noted that Janelle Bitker, a food reporter who worked for the East Bay Express at the time, told Winston her bagels were the best in California.

After hearing the news, Winston held bagel pop-ups outside her house, prompting lines to form down the street.

“This sounds really nutty and crazy, and I never in a million years would’ve expected to do this, but it feels like it wants to happen so I’m just gonna say, ‘Yeah I’m in,’ ” Winston said at the event, adding that she formed a business plan and searched for real estate for her bagel shop shortly after.

Following Boichik Bagels’ inception and boom in popularity, Winston is working on turning an 18,000 ft. warehouse into a commissary, which will include robotic technology to make bagels more efficiently.

When asked where the name Boichik Bagels came from, Winston explained that “boychik” is a Jewish and Yiddish term of endearment meaning “cute little boy” and is often used by a grandmother when talking to her grandson.

“Oh you’re such a boychik!” her grandmother once told her when she first cut her hair short, according to Winston.

Winston noted that she used the term to honor both her Jewish culture and this memory with her grandmother.

Rina Rossi is a business and economy reporter. Contact her at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @RinaRossi8.