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Glenda Dougherty opened the Bagel Mill in Petaluma in July. Setting out to make something uniquely her own, the 29-year-old baker already has distinguished her bagels by milling her own whole-wheat flour and using a sourdough starter. The store, located at 212 Western Ave., has plentiful seating and carries a variety of shmears, lox, pastrami and a smoked trout salad — though I got lucky and was able to score a whitefish salad as a special on a recent Friday — along with some nontraditional offerings such as pizza, pesto and Asiago bagels. This is California, after all. (Shout-out to the two J. readers who tipped us off!)
J.: What was your knowledge about bagels growing up in Sebastopol?
Glenda Dougherty: I grew up on cakey, bad bagels, and I thought that was a bagel. I was never a huge fan of them. I do keep the pesto and pizza bagels on my menu now as a tribute to the bagels I grew up with.
But then you went to NYU and tasted a real New York bagel for the first time.
Yes. We would get them as a midnight snack, and they quickly became one of my favorite foods. I also liked the ritual of it, being able to get them quickly in the morning. Any corner store had a good bagel, and you definitely don’t get that here.
It’s not like you left NYU with a degree in media studies determined to open your own bagel shop.
No. The baking thing started during my summers home from college, which led to me working at Momofuku Milk Bar with pastry chef Christina Tosi. That was a flashy name on my resume that allowed me to work in fine dining [after college] without having to go to culinary school. I just really enjoyed working with my hands, and knew I didn’t want to work in offices, but I wasn’t sure which direction it would take me.
So what led you to open the Bagel Mill?
My friend and I started Red Dog Baking Co. and started selling baked goods at farmers markets. I had gotten frustrated with fine dining, where you’d have these pastry chefs using fancy produce but then using cheap white flour and bad ingredients. I wanted to do something with good, local ingredients. I started milling my own flour, and I missed eating bagels, so I decided to make them with whole grains. We began with 100 percent whole-grain bagels. They were dense but much more nutritious. Since no one was boiling them around here, they did really well at the farmers markets. While I still do a 100 percent whole-wheat bagel, all of my other bagels have at least 30 percent whole-wheat flour in them that I mill on site.
Making your bagels is a four-day process. How does that work?
I mill the whole-wheat flour on the first day. My wheatberries are grown in Utah, but I get them from Central Milling in Petaluma. On Day 2 we mix the starter with the flour. On Day 3 we make the dough and shape them, and then they go in the fridge overnight. On Day 4 we boil and bake them.
How would you describe one of your bagels?
I want it to taste like a New York bagel but be emblematic of me and my California upbringing. It’s healthier for you and more flavorful. I don’t want it to be an exact New York bagel, and you can’t replicate the New York experience anyhow. I would get complaints if I tried to do that. Let them do it their way and I’ll do it my way. This is a hybrid bagel; I want the taste and experience of a good chewy, hearty bagel but I want it to be unique to this bakery.
What other items do you offer that might be of interest to our readers?
I’ll try anything if enough people request it. I’m trying out bialys this weekend. We did challah for Rosh Hashanah, and I think we’ll start doing it on Fridays, maybe by special order, though ours is a sourdough challah. I also have black-and-white cookies.
Do you feel your last name preordained you to go into this business?
It’s just coincidence. I didn’t think about it until I began talking to journalists.