On Sunday morning, Steve Band stood by the register at Frankie's NY Bagels, a crowd of paper bags marked with customers' names at his elbow. Beside him, Frankie Baker, owner and founder of the shop tucked in Redwood Acres, greeted a customer and introduced the new guy. Band and his wife, Rebecca, would be learning the ropes from Baker for a couple of weeks before taking over as the new owners selling the same bagels that have earned the shop a loyal following.
In October of 2020, after running Frankie's NY Bagels as a one-man shop for six months, owner Frankie Baker told the Journal he was ready to sell. But a year and a half later, he was still rising before dawn to shape, boil and bake the bagels his stalwart customer base was ordering online along with doughnuts and other sweets he'd added to the menu. The shoulder problems that made the work difficult hadn't gotten better without the surgery he'd put off but he still hadn't found a buyer. He'd had a few nibbles and gotten close but after having plans fall through, he says he was "not burned," but possibly a little toasted.
A couple weeks ago, after landing a job as a youth prevention specialist with the nonprofit Humboldt Independent Practice Association, Baker announced he was throwing in the oven mitt and shutting down. Like many regular patrons, Steve and Rebecca Band were disappointed.
"He said, 'This is your last bagel,' and I said, 'No, it's not!'" says Steve Band with a wide smile. Band, who hails from Albany, California, says he'd been looking for a career change after years as a political campaign consultant who'd done a lot of work with unions before coming to Humboldt two years ago. "It felt like the universe was speaking to me."
The Bands are both Jewish but Steve says visiting his wife's hometown of Stamford, Connecticut, was his first taste of traditional bagels. "We grew up thinking Noah's Bagels were bagels," he says, falling into a brief silence.
When they moved to Humboldt, they, like many East Coast transplants, became steady customers at Frankie's (everything bagel with pickle cream cheese for him, sesame with vegan cream cheese for her). The shop's vegan following pointed them to Redwood Acres, as the bagels, made without egg wash, are vegan friendly. And, as Steve Band says, "Frankie makes the greatest vegan doughnuts of all time."
Learning to make those bagels, doughnuts and other treats from Baker, who starts work before 4 a.m., means a shift in one's circadian rhythms, but Band says he's adjusting. "I feel like, at that point, it's so early it's like being a night person," he says. An avid home baker, he'll be doing the bulk of the production, with Rebecca working the front and their 7-year-old daughter in tow. Band says he's not looking to change any of Frankie's staples, vegan or otherwise, and is determined to keep turning out bagels with the pebbly surface, chewiness and soft interior of Baker's recipe. The limited hours and online orders will stay in place, too, for a while.
"Once I can slot in and do what Frankie does, then we can look at expanding," says Band. He and Rebecca are looking forward to adding flaky rugelach for Hannukah and jammy hamantaschen pastries for Purim, "family recipes the Jewish community hasn't had in Humboldt." Also, he says, "Frankie is gonna stay on as a consultant, so if he has a midnight bagel idea, he can send it over."
Baker, who's been volunteering to work with middle school kids, says he's ready to get started in a new direction. He's ready to finally get his shoulder surgery and lay off the physical labor, too. Asked if he'll start baking bagels at home as he did before opening Frankie's, he gave an emphatic no. "I'm going to go see Steve," he says. "I'm going to be waiting in line with everybody else." Previously, he'd said the business would be a good one for a couple to run. "Now getting to know [the Bands], they're like the perfect people to take over."
Jennifer Fumiko Cahill (she/her) is the arts and features editor at the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 320, or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @JFumikoCahill.