Jennifer Puente: Bringing New York bagels to the Bay

If you’ve lived on the West Coast your whole life, you might think you’ve eaten a bagel or two. Unfortunately, bagel shop owner Jennifer Puente thinks you may have just had bread with a hole in it.

Puente is co-owner of the House of Bagels on Geary Boulevard, the first bagel shop in Northern California and possibly the first west of the Mississippi River. She hasn’t been able to prove the latter claim, but she does know the importance of honoring the traditional Brooklyn recipe the original owners brought to The City in 1962.

“There’s a big difference between bread and bagels,” said Puente, a New York native. “To make a real bagel it has to be boiled first and then baked. We’ve had people come in who are from the East Coast and break down and just start crying and saying, ‘Oh my god — I can’t believe this is a real bagel.’”

Along with her husband and brother-in-law, Puente bought the business from her husband’s parents, who had purchased the shop from the original owners. Since taking over the shop two and half years ago, she’s had a blast spreading bagel awareness across the Bay Area.

Puente was a professor of psychology at a Chicago college before falling in love with California. There was one problem with San Francisco, however.

“I grew up in a real New York Jewish family and we would have bagels and appetizers every Sunday — it would really keep the family together,” Puente said. “So when I came out here, one of the things that really made me homesick was that I couldn’t find a real bagel.”

In addition to their menu staple, Puente and her co-owners have put in a seating area, an art gallery and a mural on the front of the shop since taking over.

They also added a full New York-style deli and bakery that includes East Coast favorites such as corn beef and pastrami sandwiches, hamentashens, and black and white cookies.

The shop has expanded to other locations in the Bay Area and rates as the No. 1 bagel on the user-rating site Yelp. Their most popular bagels, Puente said, are the sesame, poppy and bialy — a traditional flat bagel with no hole.

“It’s better than some of the bagels I get on the East Coast,” she said. “There are other real bagels in town now but I don’t think that they compare. It’s hands down the best bagel you can get in the Bay Area.”

Business

New project: House of Bagels

Last project: Psychology professor at William Rainey Harper College

Number of e-mails per day: Maybe a dozen

Number of voice mails per day: More than 50

Essential Web site: HouseofBagels.com

Best perk: Seeing customers’ faces light up when they see that we have all the treats they didn’t think they could see in San Francisco or the Bay Area

Education: Bachelor’s in communication from Syracuse University and master’s in psychology from Ohio State University

Last conference: Retail Baker’s Association in Chicago

First job: Baby sitter for my siblings

Original aspiration: Owning a store and teaching

Career objective: Get our real bagels into more mouths

Personal

Details: Gardening, jewelry making, water color penciling, photography

Hometown: Suffurn in Rockland County, N.Y.

Sports/hobbies: Running, camping, Boogie boarding and I’m gearing up to learn surfing

Transportation: Volvo X70

Favorite restaurant: House of Bagels, but I also like Chapeau and Sushi Bistro in The City

Computer: Dell laptop

Vacation spot: Cabo

Favorite clothier: Banana Republic ideally, or anything I see that’s inexpensive

Role Model: Both of my parents

Reading: Science fiction books. "Cyteen” is my favorite.

Worst fear: That the world will not be a better place than it is now when our children grow up

Motivation: Making people happy and bringing families together

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