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Member Spotlight: Emily Winston, Boichik Bagels

“The Best Bagels Are in California (Sorry, New York)” reads the headline of a March 2021 New York Times story by Tejal Rao that declares Boichik Bagels to be “some of the finest New York-style bagels I’ve ever tasted. They just happen to be made in Berkeley.” At the top of the story is a large photo of owner Emily Winston in an athletic Artemis stance, poised to hoist ready-to-eat bagels from a wooden board into a metal wire mesh bin.

Consider that this was during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many businesses were closing or struggling to survive. Boichik Bagels, in contrast, was thriving and poised for growth—and all with a name that unapologetically celebrates Winston’s pride in her LGBTQ+ identity. It is also a nod to her grandmother and Jewish culture.

“When I cut my hair, my grandmother said, ‘You are such a boychik,’ which in Yiddish is a term of endearment for a cute little boy,” Winston says.

Capturing Taste Memories

The Jewish News of Northern California reports in a headline that “Boichik Bagels Taste Like Home.” That proverbial home could have been H&H Bagels in New York City that had a manufacturing facility in New Jersey, the state where Winston grew up. She and her family enjoyed the original H&H bagels that, as singer Mariah Carey described, were “sublime: soft, warm, and plump to perfection, a classic NYC morning staple.”

Winston recalls licking the outside of H&H bagels to capture their unique malty flavor before chomping into them. She also remembers the moist and savory lox, ultra-rich cream cheese, crisp vegetables, smoky whitefish, and more from other quality New Jersey and New York delis. These are memories that she seeks to capture and relive, not just for herself but for others.

Applying Mechanical Engineering Skills to Food

Winston’s father Marvin, a scientist in the food and drug industry at his namesake Winston Scientific Consultants, LLC, had a major influence on his daughter. “He used to take me on visits to food factories,” she says. “I grew up seeing food manufacturing facilities just like it was a normal thing.”

Intelligent and ambitious, Winston is an Ivy Leaguer who graduated with a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Cornell University in 2000. She then moved to California and earned her M.S. at UC Davis in transportation, technology, and policy. For nearly three years she ran the Toyota Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle Program, where she was responsible for two $5 million prototype vehicles and more.

She then returned to New Jersey to help her aunt with EnergyCheck, an energy billing services firm for commercial real estate. The plan was for Winston to take over the business when her aunt retired, but that didn’t go as expected for a variety of reasons. Her aunt eventually closed out the business.

Winston moved back to California, where she did everything from serving drinks at St. George Spirits in Alameda to building light fixtures made from upcycled bottles to making bagels out of her home kitchen. She used to enjoy Schmendrick’s Bagels, which she had at Saul’s in Berkeley, but Schmendrick’s folded in 2013, so her home bagel pursuits intensified.

Ever the engineer, she constructed much of the equipment—board, racks, and more—that she used to make the bagels that she shared with very appreciative friends. Word spread, and demand grew beyond her own circle for the distinctive bagels. She next “flexed her mechanical engineering muscles with BakerBot,” as Eater reported.

Collaborating with the Livermore-based company BakTek, Winston designed a hybrid robot and production line system that is now at the center of Boichik Bagels locations, including a factory site in West Berkeley. She started her business in July 2017, and has not looked back since.

Striving Always to Be a Mensch

BakerBot would seem to counter the handcrafted, slow food movement, but Winston explains that it actually helps to reduce injuries that workers can sustain doing repetitive work. “Using machinery in the making of bagels has been around for a while,” she says.

While that is not completely innovative, her seamless melding of BakerBot with her large, dedicated teams of workers is unique. “I think a lot about our culture and believe we should all try to be a mensch (a person of strength, integrity, honor, and compassion).” Workers receive fair pay, health insurance, all the bagels they can eat, and other perks. It is little wonder that, at Glassdoor, Boichik Bagels has a five-star rating from employees. “Fun place to work!” is at the top of the page.

Here we would like to give a shout out to Temmy, whom many of you might have encountered if you have visited the Boichik Bagels flagship College Avenue location in Berkeley. No matter the weather, Temmy is usually outside taking orders from customers. Some are regulars who can whip out their order in seconds. Others struggle a bit more, and get the Seinfeld “Soup Nazi” look from her and people in line. When an order is eventually placed correctly, her genuine smile and relief are palpable.

“Temmy used to own a high-end clothing store in Chicago, so she likes retail,” says Winston, who seems to have a personal connection to all of her employees.

She adds, “We have a very diverse workforce in all respects. I think that me being out makes a difference in helping to draw a more diverse staff to come and work here. We have a pretty high percentage of LGBTQ+ employees.”

Organic, High-Quality Ingredients

Winston’s thoughtful, creative, and even playful nature carries through Boichik Bagels items. “Mensch” is on the menu (whitefish salad, cucumber, and tomato) on your choice of bagel. The “Classic” has Nova lox and all the expected delicious toppings. The organic malt syrup—one of the “secret” ingredients of the bagels—is blended with Mother Tongue coffee for a Chocolate Malted Coffee drink. “The malt is magic,” she says.

What is not on the menu, at least not yet, is detailed information about the high-quality ingredients. The flour, for example, is organic and from Central Milling, which is also the supplier for renowned Acme Bread. Founded in 1940, Central Milling is legendary for its quality and respect for the environment. The whitefish for the aforementioned Mensch is brought in from New York, duplicating the smoky, moist goodness of that dish at popular NYC area delis.

Poised for Growth

Winston already has five Boichik Bagels locations: the Berkeley Bagel Factory, the flagship College Avenue shop, and ones in Larkspur, Palo Alto, and Santa Clara. “We’re going to be coming to San Francisco very soon,” she says. “We are looking at Laurel Heights, Fillmore, and Downtown now.” She is also planning to expand the business to other parts of California.

“We are moving up in a big way,” she explains. “There will be multiple new stores opening by this spring.”

A member of the Golden Gate Business Association, Winston is grateful for the LGBTQ business community’s support and that of allies. She recommends that others join the association.

Outside of work, Winston—who has been dubbed “the most eligible lesbian in the Bay Area”—practices martial arts and enjoys eating out. She recalls, for example, savoring a recent tasty meal at Good to Eat Dumplings, which is run by queer immigrant women.

When we caught up with her, she had just finished tinkering with some machinery at the Berkeley factory, on the floor and with a screwdriver in hand. As she says, “I’ve always enjoyed making stuff.” She is working on creating a new challah bread that will soon debut.

If a Boichik Bagels location is not near you, yet!, the business ships nationwide: