“I could have been an accountant at a Big Four firm like my classmates at twice the salary I’m making,” said Alex Weinstein, a UCSB 2008 graduate with a business degree. “But I’d regret it. There wouldn’t be a day that I wouldn’t think I wanted to start a bagel shop.” But start a bagel shop this enterprising young man did, opening Ultimate Bagels on State Street on his 24th birthday, on November 11, 2009.
As Weinstein tells the story, though, it wasn’t the easiest of births. “On November 10, we had all the employees here for training, three huge deliveries—it was incredibly hectic,” he recalled. “The mixer broke as we were making bagels. I cut through my finger with a knife. When they tell you opening a business will take blood, sweat, and tears, I didn’t know it would mean literally. I’m sure every restaurant owner you speak to has the same story; I’m not complaining.”
Patrons aren’t complaining, either. “We give people the chance to create their own bagel,” he explained. “A lot of places, you get the basics—cucumber, tomato, onion—but here, just for greens, we’ve got spring mix, romaine, and spinach. We have both red and green bell peppers. Roast beef, two different types of salami, six different cheeses. Even in New York, it’s more cut and dried. Some guys come in here and try to outdo what they did the week before with bigger and bigger sandwiches, two meats, three meats … ” he held his hands farther and farther apart, miming a sandwich Dagwood Bumstead might love. And that’s just the fixings; unique bagel choices abound, such as flax and açaí.
Weinstein points to longtime Isla Vista favorite Freebirds World Burrito as his model. “You go down the line and say, ‘I want that, I want that,’ and boom, you have a burrito. I like walking down that line. I get what I want every time. I see what’s going on.” That process connects with his vision of ultimate service as well as ultimate bagels, for, he said, “There are places you go and they just give you gobs of cream cheese and you have to wipe some off. We ask how much you’d like. If you ask questions, you build relationships.”
The Santa Rosa native grew up in Berkeley and claims his appreciation for bagels comes from the ubiquitous Bay Area chain Noah’s. “It’s a universally loved product—who doesn’t love bagels?” he asked rhetorically. “It costs $1.25, so it’s as close to economy-proofed as you can get. But still, it takes time to get people from ‘I’m hungry in the morning’ to ‘I’m hungry for a bagel in the morning’ to ‘I’m hungry for an Ultimate Bagel.’”
It took time for Weinstein to build his dream, too. While just a sophomore living in Isla Vista, seeing the lines at the I.V. Bagel Café made him realize there was an area bagel market to tap. He bided his time, learning more about business through the Technology Management Program at UCSB (“The program should be more recognized than it is”) and then by talking to bagel makers up and down California. One pointed him to the prestigious American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kansas, and so Weinstein enrolled and took a six-month course. “The six largest baking companies in the country send their employees there,” he asserted. “So not only did I learn from the classes, but also from being a student alongside people who were making Hostess bread for 35 years.”
The hunt for the perfect location came next. He checked out I.V., Chico, Davis, Berkeley, and Santa Rosa, “But then this spot opened up,” he said, sweeping his hands about him. “Before, I’d never have been able to sign a lease on State Street, but with the bad economy, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, which previously had a store in the location and still owned it, decided to sublease at a good rate.”
Weinstein realized one secret to success would be to make everything fresh, and not just the bagels but the spreads, too. “Before actually making it, I thought a garden veggie spread from the store was good,” he said, “but once we started making our own … this is three times better. The first time, when chopping up the ingredients in the Cuisinart, the whole kitchen smelled amazing.” Ultimate Bagels is also committed to having as much of a local experience as possible. “You say you’re from Santa Barbara going to UCSB, but it’s a bubble,” he claimed. “Being part of the community is the most interesting thing to me.” Such a stance is reflected in the rotating local art exhibits on the walls to area roaster Green Star Coffee, from the use of produce from the Berry Man to lox packaged at Santa Barbara Fish Company.
Weinstein also loves giving to those most needy in the community. As he said, “The most rewarding part of my day is taking day-olds to nonprofits like the Boys & Girls Club, Casa Esperanza, the Unity Shoppe. The best return is knowing they’re going to a good cause.”
Fulfill your doughy desires at Ultimate Bagels (1226 State St.). Call 845-2511 or visit ultimatebagels.com.