The St. Louis area is experiencing a bagel boom: Multiple specialty bagel shops have opened in the city in the last year. And now one has come to the Illinois side of the river: C & B Boiled Bagels recently opened in Wood River and has already become a community staple.
The venture comes from Matt and Amy Herren – the chefs behind Artisan 222 and Goshen Coffee and Fond and Township Grocer, respectively. After selling their businesses and traveling the country, the duo settled back in the St. Louis area with the desire to create something that would have an impact.
They worked with the city of Wood River – a once thriving but now struggling town – to open 1929 Pizza & Wine. The Herrens hope the success of the wood-fired pizza concept convinces other restaurateurs to invest in this area, which is bursting with potential. A short walk away from 1929, C & B is a bright spot on Wood River’s main thoroughfare.
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Initially, the Herrens were looking to solely operate a wholesale bagel business, providing product to local restaurants and cafes. Brad Wells, chief of police and head of the local zoning commission, had one requirement. “Wells said, ‘I will require you to have a retail front. If we’re going to save our downtown, it has to have an active retail [operation]. It has to drive people here,” Amy Herren says.
Feast visited C & B on its opening day, and the business is indeed attracting droves of people. Customers came in waves, with lines out the door at regular intervals throughout the day. The shop opens at 6 a.m., and according to Amy, people were already lining up at 5:50 a.m. to get their taste of the freshly made New York-style bagels.
The business allows Amy and Matt to each showcase their unique talents. Matt, a baker by trade, has been responsible for creating yeasty, crispy on the outside, slightly chewy on the inside bagels. Amy, an experienced chef, has worked on developing inventive cream cheeses and bagel sandwiches. Bagel flavors range from the classic poppy seed and everything to the slightly less conventional cheddar jalapeño. A true standout is the garlic bagel: coated with chunks of fresh garlic, it becomes slightly crispy and crunchy when it cooks and amps the flavor up a notch.
One of Amy’s favorite cream cheeses is the one made with Mama Lil’s Peppers; when you talk to Amy, you can tell she is an evangelist for these particular peppers. “They’re amazing brined peppers, then they’re packed in oil and garlic and spices and they are so flipping good. And they have a medium heat and are chopped up fine and mixed in,” she says. Add that spicy cream cheese to a sea salt bagel, generously dusted with Maldon sea salt, and you’re in for a treat. Another can’t-miss is the ranch cream cheese, which is nothing more than Hidden Valley Ranch seasoning packets added to whipped cream cheese. It’s deceptively simple, but wickedly good.
The design is inspired by the Herrens’ love of classic New York City bagel shops. C & B is a friendly, warm space, but it’s not where you come to sit and gab over breakfast. “We’re not doing espresso. It’s just really great [drip] coffee and take-out bagels,” Amy says. You come in, grab your fresh bagels and head out to the office. Also following New York’s lead, the amount of schmear on each bagel is generous – there’s no skimping here. According to Amy, the amount of cream cheese should be as thick as one side of the bagel. And if you’re vegan or dairy free, fear not: There’s a variety of plant-based cream cheeses available as well.
On the sandwich side of the menu, you’ll find classics like bacon, egg and cheese. A pro tip from the Herrens? Order the salmon sandwich – with capers, dill schmear, cucumber, red onion and tomato – and add the mustard dill sauce to take it over the top. If you’ve got a large appetite, the roast beef sandwich is sure to satisfy. A mountain of fresh roast beef is piled high on a bagel with romaine, red onion, ranch schmear and a slice of cheddar cheese that’s indulgently thick.
C & B is more than just a bagel shop; like 1929 Pizza & Wine, the Herrens see it as part of revitalizing Wood River. They pride themselves on paying a living wage to employees, who can then afford to invest in their town. Jenny Menager, who Matt describes as his right hand, has worked in a lot of restaurant jobs, but this one feels different. “I feel like I can have pride in my work. They put a lot of trust in me,” she says. Behind the counter and around the back, there are young adults working hard, who you can tell want to be there. Matt and Amy embrace the opportunity mentor them and help find their footing in the industry.
The support from Wood River means everything to the Herrens. “The coolest part has been when people from Wood River come say thank you,” Amy says. “It’s bigger than us.”
C & B Boiled Bagels is open Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Saturday from 7 a.m. to noon.
C & B Boiled Bagels, 62 E. Ferguson Ave., Wood River, Illinois, 618-216-2269, cbboiledbagels.com