The Bagel Mill’s freshly ground flour and East Coast-style in Petaluma

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When The Bagel Mill opened on July 3, it immediately sold out. Clearly, Petaluma was craving carbs.

Because quality bagel-making takes days of prep, even after adjusting for the bigger-than-expected crowds, it took a few days before bagels stayed in the rack passed the mid-morning rush. But still, social media was all abuzz with praise, everyone understanding that quality does not come easy.

Glenda Dougherty (yes, that is her real and apropos last name), grew up in Sebastopol. She baked with her mother but it was college where she first tried her hand at it professionally. Her brother is a surfer and owns Northern Lights surf shop in Bodega Bay and was friends with the surfer/owner of Gold Coast Coffee & Bakery in Duncan Mills, which helped Glenda get her first job baking.

After graduating from NYU, she worked at a startup before following her heart back to baking. She was hired at Milk Bar in New York City, which is a chain of bakery and dessert restaurants started by Christina Tosi, co-host of “MasterChef” and “MasterChef Junior,” and inventor of trademarked delicacies Cereal Milk, Compost Cookies, Crack Pie and Candy Bar Pie. Dougherty helped bake Milk Bar cookies for the holidays.

Even though Dougherty had no formal culinary training, a celebrity-owned business on her resume helped her get a foot in the door of fine dining restaurants. She started at Battersby in Brooklyn before moving back to the Bay Area to be closer to family.

She worked at Game, the restaurant that earned Michelin-star status shortly before closing up its Union Square location.

Dougherty next became a pastry chef at Bourbon Steak at the Westin St. Francis Hotel, founded by award-winning Chef Michael Mina. But Sonoma County called her home, and she moved back to Sebastopol to start Red Dog Bakery with her childhood friend Emily Schuster.

“I had become burned out and a bit discouraged,” Dougherty said. “So many restaurants claim to be farm-to-table but in the end weren’t. They will highlight one ingredient of quality, but the rest are straight off a big food supply truck. I wanted to do something different and truly concentrate on local ingredients, even if it cost more.”

They started Red Dog in 2017 out of a commercial kitchen on Lakeville, which was shared between local favorites like the Bodega food truck, Teri Velasco Catering, Awesome Bars, Bert’s Desserts and Golden State Pickleworks. “Being around all those talented people was inspirational,” said Dougherty.

But using top quality ingredients comes at a higher price, which is why she pays attention to all her costs. “I have to be honest about pricing. And if customers aren’t interested, than maybe we discontinue that particular product.”

Red Dog split its business between farmers markets and wholesale, supplying places like SHED with bagels and The Shuckery with desserts. “Jaz and I both went to Analy,” said Dougherty about the owner of The Shuckery and their shared Sebastopol high school.

These kind of connections help explain why Dougherty chose downtown Petaluma for The Bagel Mill. “I live here and wanted to open a shop that would add to the community,” she said.

I met Dougherty for our initial interview in the early morning hours, before the sun began to peak over the horizon. The fog still lay think over the city and when all the other nearby establishments were still black, The Bagel Mill’s lights shone brightly on the street.

This is the world of bakers. Even on her days off, which are rare, Dougherty has to attend to a small container of sourdough starter which needs to be “feed” every few hours. If that starter falters, the bagel making process will grind to a halt. It requires three days to graduate from starter to dough to bagel.

The “Mill” portion of the name references the mill from New American Stone Mills that can be seen through a small window at the back of the dining room. This is where Dougherty grinds a good portion of her whole wheat flour. It means using whole grains, which are freshly milled into flour and mixed into a sourdough start. It creates a product that some find more digestible than gluten-free options.

“It’s the power of natural fermentation,” says Dougherty. “Sourdough starter is more than just instant yeast. Because it lowers the PH of the dough, it can ferment longer, which means it is more digestible.”

And when it comes to flavor, freshly milled flour has the same flavor benefits that one finds with fresh-ground coffee. However, with this comes a shorter shelf life, so these flours, which are available for sale at the shop, should only be kept for six months.

And when it comes to whole wheat, The Bagel Mill again proves common prejudices wrong. Sometimes called “chalky,” the good stuff is actually quite good.

“Ours retains the wheat germ,” said Dougherty. “This adds moisture and because it is freshly ground, it has a better flavor.”

Most of The Bagel Mill’s products are 30% whole wheat, but for fluffier baked goods they use white flour from Central Milling, purchased from Keith Giusto Bakery Supplies, based here in Petaluma.

Some bagel companies simply bake their bagels, others add steam to make the seem more genuine. The Bagel Mill takes the extra step to boil bagels prior to baking, which gives bagels a chewy exterior with a soft center. While New Yorkers might claim that it is their water that makes bagels the best, science has proven that untrue.

Starting with the basics, The Bagel Mill currently offers 12 regular bagel flavors – plain, poppy seed, sesame, onion, garlic, everything, cinnamon raisin, marble rye, whole wheat, whole wheat everything, pizza and pesto. “The most popular have been the ‘everything’ bagel, followed closely by the plain and the sesame,” says Dougherty.

Customer are also clamoring for the scallion cream cheese, which is just one of several that start with Clover Sonoma cream cheese mixed in-house with herbs and spices. The sell Mama Mel’s Bread bagels in plain, poppy seed and onion.

Although bagels are the mainstay, The Bagel Mill also has sandwiches. The breakfast versions are available all day, with the lunch versions offered after 11 a.m. Breakfast sandwiches include the Bodega Egg and Cheese (organic eggs, Petaluma Creamery cheddar and Hobb’s bacon or sausage), the California Egg and Cheese (organic egg, Petaluma Creamery cheddar, Hobbs bacon, avocado and tomato), Seasonal Frittata Sando (Petaluma Creamery cheddar and avocado), Cream Cheese and Greens (scallion cream cheese, radish, cucumber, pickled red onions and microgreens) and Classic Lox (plain cream cheese, smoked salmon, red onion capers and fresh dill).

“The biggest surprise has been how much bacon and lox we go through,” Dougherty said.

Lunch sandwiches include some standbys such as Egg Salad, Spicy Turkey Club and Pastrami Reuben, as well as specialties like Vegan Dream, which uses house cashew chees atop roasted bell pepper, pickled red onion, cucumber, radish, avocado and microgreens; the “BLAT” (Hobbs’ bacon, lettuce, avocado, tomato and mayo) and the Smoked Trout Salad. So far, we have tried both the Pastrami Reuben and Smoked Trout Salad and have a hard time choosing which one we like better. The quality of the protein in both sandwiches almost made us forget that we’re eating at a bagel shop and not a high-end deli.

Sides range from fresh fruit salad and seasonal frittata to bread and butter pickles and red beet slaw. And there are always baked sweats available, from fresh baked cookies to brownies. Look for spreads of green chive and cinnamon honey, along with seasonal jam, almond butter, vegan cashew butter and Cowgirl Creamery fromage blanc.

The Bagel Mill has an impressive drink menu, focusing on coffee from Ritual Coffee and Blue Willow Tea. And for those celebratory bagel experiences, guest can enjoy a glass of beer or wine.

Dougherty receives a lot of request, such as for Bialy’s, which is a traditional Polish/Jewish with caramelized onions and poppy seeds garnishing the center. Another request was for Challah bread. “We’ll probably just make those on Fridays. Challah, especially the traditional non-dairy version, means making an extra dough and shaping it by hand, which takes a lot of extra time,” she said.

Keep an eye out for specials, such as the bagel dogs, which use all-beef dogs from Fork in the Road out of San Francisco, which Dougherty hopes to offer on weekends. There are also regular special bagel flavors like asiago, jalapeño or salt.

Expect unique culinary collaborations as well, like the upcoming offering with Golden State Pickle Works schedule for Tuesday, Sept. 24, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Menu items include deviled eggs with ferments and pickles, and bagel chips with roasted figs, delice de la vallee and burned honey vinegar.

The bagels left over after the morning rush are turned into bagged dozens, baked into bagel chips or donated to Sonoma Food Runners, whose mission it is to “alleviate hunger, prevent food waste and build community.”

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