By Andy Altman-Ohr
If you’ve done any traveling around the United States, chances are you’ve seen or maybe even visited an Einstein Bros. Bagels shop. But have you ever seen an Einstein’s here in the Bay Area?
No way, right? Because we’ve got Noah’s instead.
Those up on their bagel business history know that Noah’s New York Bagels was purchased in 1996 by Einstein Bros. The resulting corporate entity was renamed the Einstein Noah Restaurant Group.
But while other bagel shops swooped up by the group in the ’90s, including in Baltimore and San Diego, were rebranded as Einstein Bros., the power and popularity of Noah’s in the Bay Area made it an easy call for corporate bigwigs: Let the name stand in the Bay Area.
More than a decade and a half later, there are now 647 Einstein Bros. stores nationwide. As recently as a year ago, the Bay Area had exactly zero. But that changed 10 months ago when a small Einstein Bros. cropped up in the Hayward hills, on the campus of Cal State East Bay.
It’s one of 240 Einstein’s licensee locations nationwide (at airports and hospitals and on college campuses) and is operated by the campus’ food services provider, Aramark.
“It does a good business and the students really like it, but from an operations standpoint it’s a bit of a challenge,” said Wayne Narine, general manager of Aramark at Cal State East Bay. “They have to ship stuff up from Los Angeles, and occasionally they might run out of something, and there’s no nearby Einstein’s to run to and get it.”
The location offers a streamlined menu and is open only on weekdays. It closes up often, including for winter break and summer vacation.
Bagels and shmears sell well, as do egg-on-bagel sandwiches for students and faculty on the go. The nine varieties of bagels come “already made,” Narine said. “We just kind of heat [bake] them in the oven and finish them off.”Even though an Einstein’s bagel gets a brief bath in boiling water during production, the end product is very similar to a Noah’s bagel (which is not boiled). Both are steamed when they are baked, making them “fluffy” and “more suitable for sandwiches,” in the words of a corporate PR person.
Katy Kortsch, an Alameda resident who ran a Noah’s in Oakland in the mid-’90s and now works for the Einstein Noah group as a franchise consultant, noted that the major difference between the two bagels is that “an Einstein’s bagel has cornmeal on the bottom.”
Noah’s, for the record, has 64 locations nationwide, with 58 of those in California, 33 of them in the Bay Area.
Einstein Bros. has 35 locations in California, including a licensee shop at the Presidio of Monterey — the closest one besides Hayward. The next closest one to the Bay Area is at the University of Nevada in Reno.
Manhattan Bagel (which boils its bagels and doesn’t steam them) is also part of the Einstein Noah empire; there’s one on Fourth Street in Berkeley. Despite the boiling, however, the end product is still very similar to a Noah’s bagel.
By the way, the Einstein Noah Restaurant Group is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. You might not like the group’s bagels, but you’ve got to love its stock symbol: BAGL.
Einstein Bros. Bagels
Cal State East Bay, 25800 Carlos Bee Blvd., Hayward (near Science Building North)
7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Fridays; closed weekends