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Illustration of open-faced bagels and black/white images of Jewish delis. Lille Allen

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The Courage Effect: How One Boundary-Busting Shop Changed LA’s Bagel Scene Forever

Sourdough influences, farmers market toppings, and open-faced presentations are the core traits of an LA-style bagel

The fanaticism surrounding the shatteringly crisp and chewy bagel from Courage Bagels — served open-faced and prettied with herbs — is not some happy accident. It is the result of a yearslong quest by the Virgil Village shop’s wife-and-husband owners, Arielle Skye and Chris Moss, to create the best bagel imaginable.

After selling their wares from the back of Skye’s bike, and then later on at the Silver Lake Farmers Market, the couple opened Courage’s doors in the former home of Super Pan panaderia in the fall of 2020. (As a nod to the community and in recognition of the neighborhood’s rapid gentrification, the shop sells pan dulce from Super Pan on weekends.) From there, the wildfire success of Courage took off, spawning aesthetic copycats across the globe, and sparking a homegrown bagel boom that emphasizes natural fermentation, seasonal ingredients, and artful open-faced presentation. Today, a new wave of shops — from Layla Bagels in Santa Monica to Boil & Bake in Orange County — are together defining what a Southern California bagel experience is.

Portrait of Courage owners Arielle Skye and Chris Moss.
Arielle Skye and Chris Moss of Courage Bagels.
A line snaking out the door at Courage in Virgil Village.
A line snaking out the door at Courage Bagels in Virgil Village.
Workers assembling bagels inside Courage in Virgil Village.
Workers assembling bagels inside Courage Bagels.

This success story is one that belongs not only to Skye and Moss but to Los Angeles: a city unbound by traditional bagel styles like New York or Montreal that encourages experimentation in its food culture and supports innovation by making it easy to acquire cottage food licenses. LA was the perfect stage for Syke and Moss to break the mold of what a bagel can be. Informed by Eastern European traditions and inspired by California’s lush produce, their bagel is far lighter than the ones popular in New York, with a touch of smoke and char that’s reminiscent of Montreal-style but not overly sweet. Taken together, these elements make the Courage Bagels bagel unique — and utterly delicious. “Even when I was very young and cheffing in LA, it was a known thing that you could come here and kind of do anything, and it would be considered,” says Moss. “And that is not true of a lot of large food cities. [In] New York, Paris, London, San Francisco... there are a lot of rules.”

The Courage Bagels duo is not alone in their commitment to bagel sorcery in the Southland. In the last several years, a larger group of homegrown, small-batch, culinary-minded bagel shops have popped up, including Layla Bagels, Boil & Bake, Bagel + Slice in Highland Park, and pop-ups Tomorrow Bagel and Hot Water Cafe, which have established greater Los Angeles as a first-class bagel city, something that New York transplants would have never imagined five years ago.

Part of what’s monumental about the current bagel movement is how these shops are codifying what a Los Angeles bagel is — one that prioritizes high-quality ingredients and inventiveness. “It frustrates me when people ask if we’re New York-style or Montreal,” says Sergio Espana, who opened Layla Bagels, which specializes in sourdough bagels, in January. “We’re a totally different style. I almost want to say it’s an LA style, where our bagels are fluffy and airy.” Tomorrow Bagel likes to refer to its bagels as “Los Angeles bagels.” And Carlos Perez, who has used the term “California-style” at Boil & Bake, says it’s “a fun way of saying [that] I’m not claiming to be traditional by any means, that we just created a bagel that we think tastes great.” Making bagels that are distinct from tradition also prevents them from having to exist in comparison to New York and Montreal bagels and the emotional connections that people have to those styles.

Bagels boiling at Courage Bagels in Virgil .
Bagels boiling at Courage Bagels.
Moss removing freshly boiled bagels from the kettle at Courage Bagels.
Moss removing freshly boiled bagels from the kettle.
Moss and Randy LeBlanc adding everything seasoning to the bagels at Courage.
Moss and Randy LeBlanc adding everything seasoning to the bagels.
Moss adding everything seasoning to the bagels.

This is not to say there were no good bagels in LA before Courage. The Bagel Broker in West Hollywood and Western Bagel in the San Fernando Valley have been serving Angelenos since 1987 and ​​1947, respectively. There are also the not-so-new but not-so-old spots like Gjusta in Venice, which opened in 2014, and Maury’s in Echo Park that started as a pop-up and opened a standalone shop in 2019. Meanwhile, the popular Belle’s Bagels in Highland Park, which has been doing business since 2012, is on track to open an expanded Jewish deli later this summer called Belle’s. Maury’s and Belle’s are members of an in-between generation of Los Angeles bagel shops. Unlike the original feat achieved by Courage, they make bagels that are grounded in the New York tradition. Still, both were key players in bringing higher-quality bagels to Los Angeles.

One common thread in the contemporary local bagel scene is to treat bagels more like artisanal bread. Courage’s bagels are handmade, naturally fermented, and take about six days, from start to finish, to make. At Layla Bagels, Espana, who was previously a baker at Tartine, makes bagels that he describes as “airy, fluffy, and tall.” He chose to use sourdough in place of commercial yeast to add flavor and texture, but also because it makes bread easier to digest. “We wanted people to be able to have our bagels two, three times a week,” Espana says.

Saranee Muengfoo, a baker who moved from Thailand to Los Angeles in 2016 and operates Tomorrow Bagel at the Hollywood and Marina del Rey farmers markets alongside her partner, Alex Crow, uses wild yeast to add tanginess to her bagels. The signature marker of a Tomorrow Bagel bagel is that it’s completely caked in seasonings, whether that be black and white sesame seeds or za’atar and sea salt. And when Perez set out to open Boil & Bake, he was intent on making a bagel that didn’t compete with those from Shirley’s Bagels (the Orange County mini-chain that his father has owned since the ’90s), soft and shiny New York-style specimens. That led him to develop a naturally leavened recipe with a three-day fermentation using a blend of high-gluten, whole wheat, and rye flours. “It’s a chewy bagel, you get some fermentation bubbles on the outside, and then you get just enough of that [sour] flavor on the inside,” he says.

Salmon roe, cream cheese, dill, and red onion at Courage Bagels.
Salmon roe, cream cheese, dill, and red onion bagel at Courage Bagels.
Smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomato, onion, caper, dill, pepper, olive oil, and lemon bagel at Courage Bagels.
Smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomato, onion, caper, dill, pepper, olive oil, and lemon bagel at Courage Bagels.
Cream cheese, tomato, olive oil, and pepper bagel at Courage Bagels.
Cream cheese, tomato, olive oil, and pepper bagel at Courage Bagels.

Many of Los Angeles’s newer bagel shops serve bagels open-faced, an aesthetic that Courage Bagels helped popularize. The open-faced presentation better highlights the ingredients in a composed bagel sandwich; it also photographs beautifully, a quality that has not gone unnoticed on social media. (Even bagel shops in New York have caught on.) Courage halves its bagels and then tops them on each side with ingredients like hand-sliced smoked salmon and local tomatoes and cucumbers. Because most of its bagels are served this way, guests can order bagels in half-sized portions. At Layla Bagels, Espana prefers to serve his bagels open-faced because “it captures the beauty of the sandwich,” he says. One of the bestsellers is the Pre-Jam, topped with cream cheese, farmers market fruit, and honey.

Luke Bramm, a chef who works alongside Perez at Boil & Bake, garnishes open-faced bagels with herbs, spices, and different oils. A mutual friend introduced the duo and they immediately clicked over the fact that Bramm had taught himself how to cure lox during the pandemic, while Perez had been working on his bagel recipe. Boil & Bake’s fully loaded lox bagel comes with cream cheese, Bramm’s house-cured lox, red onion, locally grown sprouts, and salted cucumber and radish from the Santa Monica Farmers Market. For the bagels that come with tomatoes, he uses whatever is in season. Right now, that’s Momotaro tomatoes, a variety that’s native to Japan. Come summertime, they’ll have heirlooms.

Thoughtful, local sourcing of ingredients is also a driving force for Nick Schreiber and J.D. Rocchio, the two born-and-raised Angelenos who founded Belle’s Bagels. Belle’s gets its lox from a local smokehouse in North Hollywood and pastrami from RC Provisions in Burbank. “For us, it’s all about finding the ingredients as close to home as possible,” says Schreiber.

The bagel’s origin story is firmly rooted in the Jewish diaspora, a history that still informs how many contemporary bagel makers approach their work. One of the newest additions to the Los Angeles mix is the chef Jesse Furman’s (formerly of Slammers Cafe and Grá) Hot Water Cafe, a Jewish appetizing pop-up that he hopes to build into a restaurant. Furman, who is from New York and can often be found donning a Zabar’s hat, is calling his bagels, which incorporate sourdough for chew and freshly milled flour, “gourmet New York-style” and serving them on platters with his homemade schmear, locally cured salmon, farmers market tomatoes, and whitefish salad made by Little Fish. His hope is to bring something akin to the New York City institutions Barney Greengrass and Russ & Daughters Cafe to Los Angeles, where there are plenty of long-standing Jewish delis but not any real appetizing restaurants. “I feel like there’s a void to fill in Los Angeles,” he says. “My goal is to bring the magic and sophistication of a full-service restaurant to the recipes that are in my family.”

Bagels coming out of the oven at Courage Bagels.
Bagels coming out of the oven at Courage Bagels.

With their soon-to-open Belle’s delicatessen, Schreiber and Rocchio want to carry on the story of Los Angeles’s Jewish deli culture, which has seen the closures of both Greenblatt’s Deli in West Hollywood and Jerry’s Deli in Studio City in the last few years alone. They also want to serve high-quality bagels and other deli fare, which is something that not all long-standing Jewish delis are known for. “We’re really just trying to create a place where you want to eat not just based on the nostalgia, but based on the fact that the food is good,” says Schreiber. Both he and Rocchio feel that the explosion of artisanal bagels, both in LA and beyond, is driven by people wanting to connect with their roots. “I think across a generation with a certain sensibility, there’s been a desire to bring bagels back to the craftsperson, back to the lab, and spend time on them because it’s a special food that takes a lot of work,” says Rocchio.

For Syke and Moss, making great bagels has everything to do with history. From the get-go, they’ve been focused on producing a bagel akin to what that somebody’s grandmother would make in Eastern Europe 500 years ago, “before machines,” says Skye. As for the overwhelming response to Courage, she and Moss are grateful for what they’ve come to understand as the LA spirit of giving chefs a chance to try something different. “I think we took something that had slowly started to be taken for granted, and we didn’t take it for granted,” says Moss.

Courage Bagels

777 North Virgil Avenue, , CA 90029 (323) 828-9963 Visit Website
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