Stuart Teitelbaum grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Forty years ago he landed in Sonoma with a New York City subway token in his pocket and a recipe for the best bagels ever. Now he wears that metal token on a chain around his neck. And with the recipe, the affable Teitelbaum started Homegrown Bagels on West Napa Street.
“Back then there was no place north of the Golden Gate to buy a bagel. The closest was Geary Street in San Francisco,” he says. Teitelbaum invested everything he had in the business. “That first day I was a bit nervous,” he says. “Until a customer walked in and handed me a dollar bill. Bagels were a quarter each then. I gave him four and we were both happy.”
Small towns generally have a certain place where locals gather. It offers the familiar comfort of home. Part of the attraction is decent coffee, inexpensive tasty food, community camaraderie and a welcoming staff. With Homegrown Bagels, Teitlebaum has created that kind of place. Generations of Sonoma families have stood in line chatting while waiting for their favorite bagel.
“Forty years ago most who lived here never had a bagel,” Tietlebaum says. “After the first bite, they became regulars. And word spread.”
The origins of bagels date back to around 17th century Europe; the earliest-known mention of them in writing can be traced to Krakow, Poland in 1610 when they were described as gifts given to women in childbirth. For centuries they were identified with the Jewish culture. In the U.S. in the 1980s, they became mainstream. Bagels joined the English muffin as a breakfast staple. And they became popular as bread for sandwiches.
When Teitelbaum started his business, he wasn’t aware that the odds of success were stacked against him. Bloomberg statistics say that eight out of 10 entrepreneurs fail in the first 18 months. “It’s important to have a consistently good product,” Teitelbaum says. “As a service business, we work hard to make our customers feel welcome. We strive to greet them by name and ask, ‘the usual?’ Not many places can do that.”
Owen Tuttle, retired art teacher from SVHS, is a regular. “I was an early on customer. I’d begin my day at Homegrown. And my students hung out there too. So I started drawing an animated Mr. Bagel with a bagel body and gangly arms and legs, on the store’s whiteboard. He became part of an art lesson on composition, perspective or color.
There were many themes: Mr. Bagel walks the bike path, Mr. Bagel goes to the Olympics, Mr. Bagel goes surfing. He even showed up as Renoir for art history. After three to four days I’d finish the drawing, erase it and start over. Those Mr. Bagel sketches gave me freedom. I never had an artist’s worry of perfecting them over time.”
Tony Peña has been Homegrown Bagels’ baker for more than 30 years. “I would have never made it without Tony,” Teitelbaum says. “He starts work at 9 p.m. and finishes around 2 to 3 a.m. in the morning. He’s never missed a day.” Peña’s son and nephew work with him.
Homegrown has always catered to families. Teitelbaum’s daughter Selene and son Damien worked at the store when they were in high school. And Minnie, Teitlebaum’s mother, is the inspiration for the aptly named Minnie Bagel. “We have had many SVHS students work here,” Teitelbaum says. “For most it’s their first job. The experience provides them with a sense of responsibility for whatever they do later.”
First 40 Fiesta
A First Forty Fiesta will be held Sunday, June 10, from 6 to 10 p.m. in the parking lot outside Homegrown’s store in Sonoma Marketplace. On stage:
- Adam Traum
- Dave Aguilar
- Dan Martin
- Ed Dufault
- Gentlemen Soldiers
- Keith Thompson
- John Williams
- Ralph Cetola with Vitamin Girl
- The Sean Carscadden Trio
- Steve T. Ney
- Wildflower Weed
- Zakk & Daddy Murphy