As prevalent as coffeehouses have become in Ventura County in recent years, they are getting a serious run for their money by bagel shops.
According to Elizabeth Huff of the Ventura County Environmental Health Division, which processes permits for food service operations, the number of businesses dedicated to bagels has grown from two to 10 since 1994.
Last year, bagel shops opened in Westlake Village and Oxnard, with two starting up in Camarillo. Most recently, I & Joy Manhattan Bagel opened on Telephone Road in Ventura.
And more Ventura County establishments are on the way.
Specifically, Noah's New York Bagels, a 39-store chain based in San Leandro, is scheduled to open a shop on Moorpark Road in Thousand Oaks by the end of March. A Ventura Noah's is due to open on South Victoria Avenue in mid-May.
Dan Rodriguez, manager of Western Bagel Too in Westlake Village, credits the bagel boom to an increased interest in low-fat foods. "Look at the health benefits of the bagel as compared to the doughnut," said Rodriguez. "There's no fat in a bagel, and it's high in carbohydrates."
At 14, Western Bagel Too, part of a seven-store chain, is the senior bagel broker in the county. Rodriguez, who has been at the shop for nine years, said the growing popularity of bagels has affected his operation.
"We've grown considerably. We've remodeled two times, enlarging once, because of the way the business has risen in the last five years," he said. "With more bagel shops opening up, that's not necessarily good for us. But it does make people more aware of bagels, and we have the best bagels."
Best or not, the Western Bagel Too has a large selection. The shop boasts 23 different bagel flavors, including strawberry and sun-dried tomato-basil, which have been added to the menu over the past six months.
Noah Alper, founder of the predominantly Northern California Noah's New York Bagel chain, said the bagel business is one of the fastest growing food service areas nationwide, and Southern California is ripe for expansion.
"Los Angeles County and Ventura County is bagel country," he said. "There are a lot of transplanted East Coasters, a lot of sophistication, interest in new foods, interest in health. There are lots of reasons for us to be locating in the region."
Alper's chain has 30 locations in Northern California. But the move southward has begun in full force. A Noah's opened in Sherman Oaks last month, and a Burbank store opened last week.
"This was a one-store operation in Berkeley when I started it," said Alper. "I was able to do a lot more aggressive growth. I didn't really plan on this at the beginning; it just evolved."
There's a vegetable chili recipe from Traces Produce of Oxnard, a vegetarian enchilada recipe from SK Farms of Oxnard, and a persimmon pudding recipe from 4 M Ranch of Santa Paula.
These produce-inspired creations are among the entries in The Farmer's Market Cook Book (Volume 1), compiled by the Channel Islands Harbor Farmer's Market. The booklet is available free at the Farmer's Market and at the Channel Islands Visitor Center.
"Volume one consisted of recipes from farmers only," said Susan O'Brien, marketing director. "We went to farmers at the market and asked for recipes made with produce they sell or grow."
The booklet is so popular, a second volume is in the making. This time, O'Brien said, she is accepting recipes from farmers and the public, as long as each entry uses produce available at the farmers market. Deadline to submit recipes is March 16.
Channel Islands Farmer's Market meets each Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Harbor Landing, 2810 S. Harbor Blvd., Oxnard. The visitors center is at 3810 W. Channel Islands Blvd., Suite G., Oxnard. Call 985-4852 for information.
Leo Smith is a regular contributor to Ventura County Weekend. Write to him at 93 S. Chestnut St., Ventura 93001, or send faxes to 653-7576.